Gordon Nelson

by Phil Johnson

Dr. Gordon Nelson, an elected member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation for the city of Minneapolis for 32 years, joined the staff of Martin Sabo, Minnesota Fifth District Representative, in 1978 and served for 28 years. Gordy knew virtually everything, especially about politics and theology. Congressman Sabo said: “He was a quiet person with an incredible knowledge of the history of Minneapolis. He had a deep interest in city government and wanting to make it work.”

Gordon was of great help to me when I worked on a mayoral campaign in Minneapolis. He suggested I read City Politics by Banfield and Wilson, which I did to my great, continuing benefit. It was wise to act on his suggestions. Among his many vocations, Gordon managed the Sabo Sluggers Softball team for 25 years.

He was valedictorian at Minnehaha Academy. In 1952, the year of “I like Ike,” who was overwhelmingly supported at Minnehaha, Gordy had an Adlai Stevenson booth. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science at the University of Minnesota, a Masters of Divinity from Luther Seminary (with one year at North Park Seminary in Chicago), and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Social Ethics.

As a student, he worked with a Minneapolis YMCA boys’ program. One boy, 10-year-old Wes Skoglund, became a state DFL legislator. “He had a remarkable impact on us,” Skoglund recalled. “Gordy was so involved in helping all these little boys go the right direction morally, spiritually and in all ways.”

While a member of Bethlehem Covenant Church in Minneapolis, Gordon revived the The Bethlehem Star. He subscribed to Pietisten from the beginning. It pleased us that a tough-minded person with very high standards – and a staunch Lutheran – found our journal worth reading. With a sharp eye for the particular, he insisted on accuracy. His career as Professor of Sociology at Augsburg College was long and distinguished. He also taught at United Theological Seminary.

Gordy was born in China to missionaries Barton and Molly Nelson. His father rode a bicycle across China to escape the Japanese and return to his family in the Philippines. Pietisten paid tribute to Gordon’s father and mother (Summer, 1999).

May Gordon, as he wrote of his mother, Molly, in 1999, “live win peace.”

Phil Johnson is Editor Emeritus of Pietisten.

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