Aven Nelson

Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013

Aven Nelson was born on March 24, 1859 to Norwegian emigrants, on a small farm in southeast Iowa.  He was the youngest of four children.  
In 1883, Aven earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Missouri Normal College and began his career as an assistant professor of natural sciences at Drury College in Springfield, Missouri.  In 1887, he and his wife, Celia moved to Laramie, Wyoming, where he joined four others as the first professors on the University of Wyoming campus.  He served as the University’s first librarian and professor of economic biology, zoology, animal, physiology, hygiene, physical geography and calisthenics. 
In 1891, he took a leave of absence and went to Harvard to complete a master’s degree. He returned to Wyoming in 1894 and in the next two years he collected over 2,300 botanical specimens.  In 1899, he convinced the University to establish the Rocky Mountain Herbarium.   In 1901, he became a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  In 1904, he earned a Ph.D from the University of Denver. 
Dr. Nelson published “New Manual of the Botany of the Central Rocky Mountains (Vascular Plants)” with John Coulter as senior author but complete rewritten by Nelson.  The work contained 2788 species, 1788 synonyms, 55 new species, and 133 new combinations.  A few years later he published “Spring Flora of the Intermountain States” .
He became the Vice President of the University in 1914 and then in 1917 was named acting President and then served as President from 1918 to 1922.
Aven married Ruth Ashton from Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a graduate student at UW in 1931.  That same year, he retired from teaching.
The Aven Nelson Memorial Building on the University campus was named in his honor.  He received an honorary doctor of science degree from the University of Colorado  and received  an honorary doctor of law degree from the University of Wyoming, during its 50th anniversary.
At the age of 80, he and Ruth botanized Mount McKinley National Park.  Ruth authored three books, “Plants of Rocky Mountain National Park”, “Plants of Zion National Park: Wildflowers, Trees, Shrubs, and Ferns”, and a “Handbook of Rocky Mountain Plants”.
Dr. Nelson died on March 31, 1952 at the age of 93 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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