Amherst Magazine

Charles Griffith Nelson '62

Submitted by Craig H. Morgan

From Freshman Year Archive

Nelson CHARLES GRIFFITH NELSON
220 North Scoville Ave, Oak Park, Ill.
Prepared at Oak Park and River Forest H.S.
Glee Club

Chuck Nelson died January of 1978.

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From Our Reunion Book ---

Chuck was with us only one semester.

What we did know about him was that he was bright to the point where it seemed his brain waves overwhelmed.  Jay Mittenthal recalls --- " Energy like a coiled spring, leaking out in the constant twirling of his forelock.  He insisted that stairs were always to be taken two or three at a time, and so the image of his slender, gangly frame bounding up them remains in mind...[as well as] the vivid intensity of speech".  We also know that he was patient with the rest of us.  We know he was tremendously musical, singing in the Choir and Glee Club, telling roommate Bill Leland that he found solace in music, leading Bill to a piano practice room, where Chuck performed Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto by heart.  And finally, we know Chuck appeared unhappy with Amherst.  His sister says she suspects he did not like the fraternities, but is unsure of what role this played.

What we did not know was that he was living in a shadow.  He had caught strep throat at the age of two, and the strep triggered an autoimmune attack on his kidneys, almost killing him.  It was only after two full years that he was able to leave the hospital, his kidneys seriously impaired..

He did not return to Amherst for the second semester, leaving us in the dark as to why.  Instead, he switched to Indiana University in Bloomington. He loved IU, and after graduating in 1962, he continued on to get a Masters in Economics, and then a  Masters and PhD in Political Science.  It was at IU that he met his wife, fellow Polysci grad student Beverly Fretz, who was extraordinary in her own right. They were married in 1965.  Friends describe Chuck and Beverly as a delightful couple, a privilege to know..

From IU Chuck was hired in 1967 to teach at the University of Missouri in Columbia--MIzzou. A fellow Mizzou faculty member writes ".Chuck was a great colleague, full of ideas and challenges, but always respectful of Neanderthals..  He was probably so bright and capable that he had trouble focusing on any one project and did not develop a strong publishing record; I think he was slow to finish his dissertation". Chuck's sister says his dissertation was the world's longest, but that he did finish, and generated some related journal articles. Yet in the end he missed tenure, joking that he had published AND perished.  His frail health could not have helped.  Around 1970 his kidneys had finally quit, and with Beverly's help Chuck started home dialysis. .

It was also at Mizzou that Chuck and Beverly started a family, adopting a daughter, Barbara in 1972..

From Mizzou they moved to Washington DC in 1974, where Chuck took a job at the Department of Energy.  In Washington, they linked up with old friends, and with Chuck's sister, and patiently waited for a kidney donor match.  In December of 1977 a match finally arrived, and Chuck underwent a transplant.  The first two weeks of recovery went well, and must have raised hope of a blessed liberation. But then, still heavily immuno-suppressed, Chuck caught meningitis, and quickly declined, dying in January of 1978.  He is survived by his daughter and two grandchildren. .

Chuck's sister Nancy sums it up -- .

I miss his humor, brains, and musicality.  He was curious about everything, loved to talk, analyze, and read.   As a kid, he read through all the World Books from A to Z.  He not only played the piano, but was an excellent tympanist and singer.  And after completing all the math classes in high school, requested that new courses be offered.  I remember when I graduated from college, I was disappointed that I couldn't take a computer course at Illinois Institute of Technology because it required calculus.  "No problem," he said.  "I'll teach you what you need to know."  ---which he did.  We played a lot of four-handed piano music together, shared many spirited games of tennis, and after he left the field of science, he would take delight in learning about biochemistry, which I was studying and would share with him.   But, in spite of all his gifts and accomplishments, he never made others feel inferior.   He respected people and honored who they were -- he was kind and self-deprecating. He loved being a father and took great joy in raising his daughter Barbara.   He was a great guy.  I still miss him.  We were pals.  

Here is the Nelson family in August of 1977----

Nelsons
From right to left, Chuck, daughter Barbara, Chuck's mother, his wife Beverly, his sister Nancy, and (beholding Barbara) his father.

---Craig Morgan ‘62.with David Leege and Nancy Nelson