Where Are They Now: Charles Nelson, Professor Emeritus of History

Nelson was recognized in 1970 with the Best Undergraduate Teacher Award.

Nelson was recognized in 1970 with the Best Undergraduate Teacher Award.

Charles Nelson, Professor of History, 1964–1994

The assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 may very well qualify as the most controversial moment in U.S. history. There is no shortage of conspiracy theories about what happened on that fateful day in Dallas, and everyone from mob bosses to the vice president have been accused of complicity in the crime.

As a professor of history at Drake University, Charles Nelson delved into the controversy surrounding the assassination and encouraged students to think critically about the information available and come to their own conclusions.

“I examined the critical literature on the JFK assassination, found it wanting, so I told my students I believed in the basic conclusions of the Warren Report,” says Nelson.

The “JFK Class” was a favorite among students, not only for the riveting subject matter but also for the expertise and enthusiasm Nelson brought to the classroom.

“Professor Nelson taught us all the theories about the assassination, and it was our job to accurately argue the theory we felt was the truth,” recalls Kristin Dunn, JO’92. “It was an amazing experience being educated so broadly about a single instance in history, and his passion for the subject matter was contagious.”

Students and peers alike recognized Nelson’s dedication, which earned him the Best Undergraduate Teacher Award in 1970.

“Receiving the award was one of my favorite memories of my time at Drake,” recalls Nelson. “President Paul Sharp presented me with the award, and I was highly honored, being then a young and passionate teacher.”

Nelson left Drake in 1994 and has since moved to San Diego with his wife, Solveig, GR’76,’78, to be closer to their daughter, Katie, and grandchildren, Alex, 9, and Kristin, 7.

“I have fond memories of Drake and miss many of my former colleagues,” says Nelson. “And of course I was a fan of the exciting Drake Bulldog basketball home games played in Vets’ Auditorium and always cheered the runners at the sometimes chilly annual Drake Relays.”

In addition to spending time with family, Nelson remains an avid reader. He recently completed the Sherlock Holmes series and has read most of John LeCarre’s espionage thrillers. In between books, Nelson spends time landscaping and working in his garden.

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