Lectures honor late professor

Late History Professor Lawrence “Larry” Nelson teaches a history class. Nelson died Jan. 14, 2014, from a brain tumor. The first in an annual series of lectures honoring him will be March 10 in the Department of Communications building room 131 at 7 p.m.

by Life Editor Melissa Parker

The campus and community remember a man who dedicated his life to the love of history, family and the pursuit of intellect.

The first in an annual series of lectures titled “The Lawrence J. Nelson Memorial Lecture” honors Lawrence “Larry” Nelson, late history professor at UNA.

The Office of University Advancement established a fund through the UNA Foundation to provide future lectures.

The inaugural lecture is March 10 at 7 p.m. in the Department of Communications building room 131 and is free and open to the public.

Nelson died Jan. 14, 2014, from a brain tumor.

In the 30 years he taught at UNA, he touched many lives, including that of History Professor Matthew Schoenbachler.

“I had him as a professor back in the late ‘80s, and he’s really the reason I became a history major and went on to get my doctorate,” Schoenbachler said. “I started as a freshman and didn’t have an idea what I wanted to do. Then, I wandered into his course. It was just this amazing experience of learning about the past in a way I’d never understood it before.”

The featured speaker at the event is University of Richmond’s Professor of Humanities Edward Ayers, a renowned historian of the Civil War era and the 19th century American South and current co-host of NPR’s “Backstory with the American History Guys,” Schoenbachler said. His talk will be on “The Mystery of the Civil War.”

Two former students of Nelson’s, Troy Paino, president of Truman State University, and Lorri Glover, professor of history at St. Louis University, will share how Nelson impacted their lives.

Glover, a UNA alumna, said Nelson encouraged, guided and believed in her.

“I think he’s the reason I even graduated from UNA,” she said. “I was sort of lost and moving around from major to major and class to class. I somehow wound up in his course, and it was life changing. I knew within a week that’s what I wanted to do with my life.”

Schoenbachler said he got to know Nelson on a professional level when they were colleagues at the university beginning in 2002.

The effect Nelson had on the community continuously impressed him.

“He had a great impact on me just as a student, as a mentor and as a new professor at UNA as well,” said Associate Professor of Elementary Education Lisa Clayton. “He just always made you feel like you could do anything you set your mind to.”

Nelson would open his house to students, she said. He held an annual holiday party he referred to as an “edifying gathering,” something he used to provide moral and intellectual instruction.

Every day, students would enter his classroom and find the letters “GHIIH” written on the board, Clayton said.

They stood for “Good history is ‘intellectual’ history.”

“He taught us how to be intellectuals, how to live a life of the mind and how to think critically and thoughtfully about the world,” Glover said.

Clayton said Nelson was a caring Christian man who believed in “Less Larry, more Jesus.”

Glover said she heard him preach a few times when she attended UNA.

“His faith was deeply meaningful to him and the young people he encountered at UNA and in the larger community,” Glover said.

She said she feels like she owes her career and life she has lead to him.

“I’ve met lots of people and many people who are very inspiring and very dedicated and very accomplished, but I’ve never met anybody like him,” she said.