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Interview with A. Carl Nelson Jr., August 5, 2002 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with A. Carl Nelson Jr., August 5, 2002
Date:
August 5, 2002
Description:
Carl Nelson came to UNCW in 1982 as an instructor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. After retiring in 1988, he continued at UNCW as a tutor in the Math Lab until 2001. The discussion includes Dr. Nelson's education, his career at UNCW, and his career at various other places, such as University of Delaware, Westinghouse, Research Triangle Institute, and the University of Maryland. Dr. Nelson talks about the people at UNCW whom he has gotten to know over the years, his academic fields of interest, and the classes he taught. His specialization is statistics. The interview includes mention of the A. Carl Nelson scholarship, given every year to an undergraduate student with interest and aptitude in statistics.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Nelson, Jr., A. Carl Interviewer: Lack, Adina Date of Interview: 8/5/2002 Series: Voices of UNCW Length: 55 minutes

Lack: Good afternoon. My name is Adina Lack and I’m the archivist at UNCW. I’m very happy to be here today to conduct an oral history interview with a retired faculty member.

Lack: Can you please state your name for our tape Mr. Nelson.

Nelson: My name is A. Carl Nelson Jr.

Lack: Thank you. Today is August 5, 2002. I’ll begin by asking some introductory information so that we can get to know you a bit. Where were you born and where did you grow up, sir?

Nelson: Well I was born in Westchester, Pennsylvania and I lived in Pennsylvania for approximately eight years and moved to northern Delaware. That was in 1935. I lived in Delaware until I went into the service. I was in the service for two years, in the Navy, from ’44 to ’46. I returned to Delaware, the University of Delaware and taught there part-time while I was taking some graduate courses in mathematics. So that’s my early years.

Lack: Where did you complete your undergraduate degree? Was that while you were in the Navy?

Nelson: Yes, my undergraduate degree was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT as we know it. I got done in 1946, I was 20 years old then. Aeronautical engineering too, not in math.

Lack: Aeronautical engineering, is that what the Navy wanted you to study?

Nelson: No, not particularly. I loved mathematics at the time, but I thought nobody wants a mathematician so I looked around for an engineering course. Aeronautical engineering was appealing so that’s where I ended up and thoroughly enjoyed it. They had a wind tunnel lab there. It was a very advanced school as far as aeronautical engineering. I thoroughly enjoyed my study there.

Lack: To get your degree at age 20, you were quite young.

Nelson: Well yes, I was young. I started out in school at 5-1/2 approximately. My birthday is in January and I started schooling in September so I was a little over 5-1/2. In Pennsylvania if your birthday was on or before January 1, you could get into school on that basis and somehow I got in. I’m not sure how, whether my mother snuck me in. Since my birthday was January 2nd, I was only one day over. I guess she was able to convince them that I should go to school with the 1st graders at that early age. So I was always the youngest person in the class throughout my school days.

Lack: To have an undergraduate degree from MIT at age 20, that’s quite impressive. So you went to Delaware and did some graduate work.

Nelson: I did return to Delaware and did graduate work in mathematics and became interested in statistics. There was a Dr. Grubbs from Aberdeen, Maryland, who came up and taught some courses in statistics and I became very much interested in the subject matter. I tended to move towards statistics and later I went on to the University of North Carolina.

I did not get my Ph.D. I went there for two years, alternate years, but I started raising a family a little bit too fast and I ended up with more children than degrees here. I had four boys eventually. I had one child the first year I was at the University of North Carolina or right after I returned to Delaware for a year.

What I did was to alternate years. I went to the University of North Carolina and then returned to Delaware to teach at the University of Delaware and then I went back to the University of North Carolina and took another year of statistics. I finished almost all my course work at that time. I went back to Delaware then to teach for subsequent years until I went to Westinghouse. Passed around a little. Raised a family, ended up with four boys during all this time.

Lack: Was your Master’s degree from Delaware?

Nelson: Yes.

Lack: In statistics?

Nelson: It was really in mathematics, but I was leaning towards statistics at the time.

Lack: I see and you raised your family in Delaware.

Nelson: Well in Delaware and Pennsylvania. My last boy was born in Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, just south of Pittsburgh.

Lack: You went to work for Westinghouse in Pittsburgh?

Nelson: Yes.

Lack: Oh I see, what did you do there?

Nelson: I was a statistician in the atomic power plant which is just south of Pittsburgh. It’s right along the Monongahela River. I can’t think of that little town there. Anyhow, I spent about four and a half years there in Pittsburgh.

Lack: Oh I see, did you teach some part-time while you were there?

Nelson: Well, part of my job was teaching. We had some in plant course instruction which I thoroughly enjoyed. Did some of that so I always liked the teaching aspect of my jobs.

Lack: Kept yourself into that. Well did you go to North Carolina from Pittsburgh?

Nelson: Yes. My supervisor at Pittsburgh had a close friend who was at that time working at the Research Triangle Institute and he lured me down there which I sort of regretted that, but I thought it was time for a move. Atomic power was really in vogue at one time and then it started to slide a little bit as far as interest in the U.S.

Lack: Around Three-Mile Island?

Nelson: Well that was long before that of course, but it started to slide a little bit. It still was used in the Navy. Of course, most of our work was with the Navy, but we did have an atomic power installation just south of Pittsburgh which was quite popular at the time. It was a very interesting field. I became close friends of a lot of nuclear scientists and worked on projects with them. The projects were of a statistical nature, but more mathematical that statistical perhaps because when you’re a statistician in an industrial environment, usually they depend on your knowing a lot about math.

That led me eventually back into teaching of course. Well I left Pittsburgh and went to the Research Triangle Institute which is something I enjoyed too because of the research atmosphere there. I did some teaching and I continued to write papers while I was there so I was doing a lot of statistical research work. I was at the Research Triangle for over 10 years and left there to join a company out of Cincinnati.

The name of the company was PEDCO which stands for Professional Engineering and Development Company. They were doing most of their work in environment problems so I became very interested in the environment and the statistical problems associated with the environment at that time.

Lack: So a lot of statistics involved with that analysis.

Nelson: I did various things at the Research Triangle and worked some with NASA and had some projects with the Department of Transportation and did some work with some local companies, research and teaching both. I had quite a varied type of exposure.

Lack: Teaching, was that with the graduate students?

Nelson: No, that was primarily industrial environment there because I’d be teaching in a plant.

Lack: I see.

Nelson: I didn't do any teaching at the university while I was there. Of course we were contacting the university people for a lot of problem research. Initially started out doing a lot of our computer work at Duke University with the IBM 650 machine. That sounds very inadequate nowadays, but that was a big thing back then.

Lack: Sure, when was this?

Nelson: That would be in…let’s see, I have to figure out the years now. I lived down there in ’60, so it’s around the early 60’s.

Lack: So you spent a good amount of time in the Triangle area then.

Nelson: Yes, I spent quite a bit of time there even when I went with this other company, the environmental company. I was in the same area so I was there until I moved down here in ’82.

Lack: Oh, over 20 years then in the Triangle, but were your children mostly gone by then?

Nelson: Well by the time I moved down here, yes, they were. What got me down here is rather interesting because my first wife died of cancer in 1979, March ’79. When I remarried, the she was married to a fellow from Wilmington and her mother-in-law was down here. He was an only child, I was an only child too. Anyhow so she would come down here to visit her mother-in-law or her mother-in-law insisted she come down. So we came down here a few times.

I said let’s go through the campus at UNCW. I just wanted to see what it was like. I was still interested in the possibility of going into teaching at the time. So we did that and that was probably in ’81 along there. After looking at the campus, I said this is a very nice small college, nice campus. Everything was quite compelling on my following up with my making some contacts.

So I went back to Durham and called the math department head over at UNC-Chapel Hill. He gave me Dr. Frank Toney’s name who was the head of the math department down here. Through my connection with my second wife and all that, I migrated down here. Unfortunately after my interview with Dr. Toney, he was playing tennis one day and he had a serious attack and became very ill. I did follow up then with another person for being hired here. I was certainly saddened by the loss of Dr. Toney.

We have been friends with his wife over the years and she is still here. She’s remarried. So that’s sort of how I got in here. It’s a little interesting story, a little turnaround from my life which has been interesting all the way in many respects.

Lack: So when you moved down here, you weren’t really ready to retire?

Nelson: No, I was interested in finishing my career with a teaching assignment. This was very fortunate for me. I feel very good toward the university as a result of that. I’ll tell you later about that.

Lack: Well why don’t you talk a little about…you talked some of how you came to Wilmington and how you ended up at the university. What was the university like? What did you observe when you first came?

Nelson: Well it was a small university compared to now. We had about 5,000 plus students I think back then. I don’t know how many people were in the math department, maybe 20 plus, between 20 and 30. There were two other people in the math department that were interested in statistics. Names escape me now, an Indian fellow, I cannot remember his name and ______(Farkson). The three of us were teaching the stats courses.

I would normally teach one or two statistics courses each semester. Of course still in with courses in calculus and trig and algebra and so forth. Taught some advanced courses while I was here really at what I call the graduate level type courses. We didn't have a graduate program in statistics per se at that time. Just I was leaving, we did have the graduate degree in mathematics coming on.

I always enjoyed working with the students so I quite often would take…in lieu of teaching a course, I would take like six hours in the math lab because I enjoyed working one on one with the students. That’s what I enjoyed about teaching, was working with the students, trying to motivate them because some of them, if you didn't get after them, wouldn’t do well.

Lack: Well they probably thought they couldn’t do it.

Nelson: I had one student in statistics, she was taking it for the third time. I didn't realize it until maybe six weeks after she got into the course. I called her into the course and said this was the third time she was taking this course. “You are going to pass this course this time. I want you to come in here as often as you need to and we’ll find out what your problems are and get them straightened out”. So she did manage to pass, but not with an A or a B. It was either a C or D, I don’t remember.

But anyhow I enjoyed working with the students. Some I could not motivate them to pass, but I did have several like that where you just had to push them a little bit to be sure that they did their homework and passed the course.

Lack: So you would spend some time in the math lab working with students one on one.

Nelson: Yes, I did some spend, as a rule I spent about six hours a week in there. Of course, some of my teaching years and when I retired, I volunteered to teach in the lab for free. I think I did that for two or three years with no pay at all and then they said well they would like to pay me something. I said I would accept that, would give me some money to eat on and a few things extra so they paid me for several years after that until last year.

They cut back the part-time people. That didn't really bother me. I would like to have kept on for maybe another year or two, but that didn't bother me. Theoretically I made about 50 cents on a dollar anyhow and paid the rest in taxes. It wasn’t a money thing. I just did it because I enjoyed it. But I did decide not to do it for free anymore because I thought I could take advantage of that time and do some things that I like to do just for fun.

Lack: Other enjoyable things, right. How much time did you spend there after retirement?

Nelson: After I retired, I spent usually just six hours a week in the math lab plus I would help students that could not meet me at the math lab, I would help them at other times like on Saturday morning or Friday afternoon or something just to fill in. I didn't worry about the number of hours I spent. If they needed help with statistics, I was willing to help them at any time.

Lack: I see.

Nelson: Not too many people in the math lab that could help them with statistics as well as I could because I’d been a teacher in statistics for many years. Most of them were taking like one or two statistics courses and it’s a little difficult to tutor students with that short bit of training.

Lack: So you were doing that up through last year?

Nelson: Yes, up through last year. I just did my income tax and got an extension. I just filled it out and last year was my last pay. So it went through 2001.

Lack: Because they’re having some more cutbacks I think this year for the part-timers including I think in mathematics.

Nelson: I was talking to Tom Brown, but Tom was still going to teach I think.

Lack: That was a good amount of time because you worked as an instructor starting about in ’82.

Nelson: Right through ’88 inclusive. The reason I stopped in ’88, my mother was stricken with cancer. She lived in Delaware and I was an only child. I felt like I needed to be able to go back and forth more freely that I could if I signed up for teaching so I decided not to teach any further. So I stopped after the six years which I really somewhat regretted.

Another very fortunate thing happened. The very day I was cleaning out my office and moving, I got this notice that the University of Maryland was looking for part-time help for doing teaching out in the field, in particular with people at the power plants, the nuclear power plants. So I applied for that job. It was a job I could work around visits to Delaware because like I’d go out two times during the month and stay at a power plant for like three days, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, things like that.

I would teach the course at that time. It’s a very concentrated teaching and then I would go back home. The students took their tests on computer so I would follow up with what the students were doing in that way. They did their homework on the computer also. So I could find out how they were doing with their homework assignment. That was an interesting experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed it because I liked working with people in industry. I did that for about six years after I retired here, see. I could work that around my mother who did pass away in 1989. I think I stopped here in ’88 so she did die within that next year. So I still continued on with this University of Maryland thing. I was able to keep that and then finally they cut me off there too eventually. They needed to take care of their staff first.

Lack: I guess that must have been kind of a nice change. The students were probably all quite motivated.

Nelson: Yes, very motivated. They were working on a degree program in nuclear engineering and they were very motivated. It was very interesting. Essentially I would teach four hours at a time with a break. Then I had a session on Saturday usually after I taught in the morning. It was interesting. I taught some statistics, calculus, differential equations and algebra, trigonometry, I went through the whole thing.

Lack: You have to keep up with everything I would think. That’s hard because it’s easy if you concentrate in one field, I’m sure you forget the rest, but when you do everything, you have to remember it all. When you were at UNCW, was it the Department of Mathematics and Statistics?

Nelson: Yes.

Lack: So they were combined at that point.

Nelson: Yes, I think they may have been combined while I was here. I don’t know the exact date of the combination, but I think that happened while I was here.

Lack: And computer science…

Nelson: They split off afterwards, but they were still in the department until maybe the last year, I’m not sure. You probably have information from some of the other people about the dates. My memory is not nearly as good as it used to be.

Lack: (Laughter) No, you’re doing really well. It’s a lot of information to cover. Well what do you think you liked best in your whole career because you’ve done different things.

Nelson: Well I thoroughly enjoyed the teaching. I don’t consider myself a good teacher. The only thing I did emphasize is contact with the students and helping them. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I especially liked the statistics. That was my whole working career essentially was built around statistics so that part I felt like I knew very well. I knew the practical side of it and worked with industry so that part was interesting too.

The only thing was I taught statistics to the nursing students, statistics 210 at that time. I’m not sure if it’s still 210 or not. Then I had 205 for the students in social sciences. Then we had 215, these are the elementary courses for the students in physical sciences. So I didn't feel like I was a very good nurse. I probably didn't give them as much background cause I really didn't have a background in nursing obviously.

As far as statistics is concerned, it’s a subject that applies to any field and really the application of it is very similar. You just change the name and you have an application in an entirely different field which is what is always interesting about it.

Lack: Their projects would be of course nursing related, their problems... Did you use software packages on the computer?

Nelson: Well actually the computers didn't get in heavily at that time. They really came in about the time I was ready to leave. In fact, I got my first computer for my home. It was one of the first, Apple II, I guess. That was my very first computer. I got that on a deal with a company, PEDCO, that I worked with. They used six computers in the field to do data collection work.

So they offered them to people that worked at PEDCO Environmental for half price after the six months. They bought them outright and sold them at half price to us. So I got my computer at half price and paid as much for it probably as people do now for these new computers.

Lack: Oh easily I’m sure.

Nelson: In fact, I got another computer, I’ve got two other computers. I’ve got a MacIntosh.

Lack: An SE or a Classic.

Nelson: Just the basic Mac, MacIntosh Plus. I can’t think of when I got that now. In ’83 or ’84, somewhere around there. Then very recently I got a new MAC, IMac. I thought I needed to get on the internet. I do a lot of research in investing. I do a lot of investing. That was sort of necessary I felt that I kept up with it.

Lack: So you’re a MacIntosh person?

Nelson: Yes, definitely. I didn't want to change in my late life to another computer jargon.

Lack: Well I went to college in the late 80’s and I took research methods statistics course and we used SPSSX on a mainframe which I’m sure they don’t do now. It’s all PC, but I don’t know if they did that at UNCW, if you used mainframe or anything.

Nelson: Yeah, they had, Dargon Frierson was teaching some courses in computer aspects. The elementary courses, I don’t think, they need to learn a little bit more before they get on the computer I think. You could do some of the work on the computer obviously and cut out some of the drudgery, but you still had to learn the basic statistics and understand what all the concepts were before you get on the computer.

We didn't really press the computer in the elementary courses, but he did teach a course in computer statistics I think in the last couple of years I was here. Were you here when you took your courses in computer?

Lack: No, I was up in DC at American University. It’s certainly changed now. It’s difficult to think I’d have to run a T-Test manually or something like that. That wouldn’t be very fun. So computers can help speed things up, that’s for sure.

Nelson: When I was at Westinghouse, talk about computers, I got into some interesting problems there because it’s very difficult to run those computers back then. They were so slow. If you had a problem in differential equations, it just took forever to run it. So they were looking for shortcuts so I would have them run a designed experiment from a statistical aspect and then take a few points rather than try to run, you know if you have five or six variables, you try to run an experiment and take each variable three levels.

Well you get 3 to the 5th or 243 or some big numbers and that was unheard of then to run that many trials on a computer. So they were looking for some short way. We did some interesting things. It wasn’t a pure statistical problem. It was really a mathematical problem of fitting a surface to a function, trying to approximate it from a few number of points anyhow. That was sort of an interesting problem I ran into there.

Lack: They wouldn’t have to deal with it now.

Nelson: Right, it’s not even sensible now to think about it. Back then it was a matter of money. Of course there wasn’t as much money floating around then as there is now so a dollar meant a lot.

Lack: So it sounds like you were a full time instructor here.

Nelson: Full time instructor, right.

Lack: Did you have to serve on committees?

Nelson: I just served on one committee. We were looking at the use of statistics in…or how much need there was for students to take statistics from some of the local industries so we surveyed some industries to find out if they would be interested in taking graduate work in statistics or advanced work and that kind of thing. That was about the only research type thing I did.

I served on a couple or three committees otherwise. One was related to the co-op program or it’s tied in with the university, but it’s still for people on the outside. I don’t know what they call it, but served on one committee there. Just small things, nothing really major.

Lack: Who was the chair of the department when you were there?

Nelson: Well Dr. Smith came in, I don’t know what year, he came in…Dargan Frierson I think was acting as chair for a year or two. I think Dr. Smith followed him, I’m not certain that that was the order. Dargan just did it as a fill in until the full time person. I think that was the sequence, I’m not certain because Dr. Toney left about a year after I came here or he died about a year after I came here.

Lack: Was Dr. Hurst around when you were there?

Nelson: Dr. Who?

Lack: Dr. Adrian Hurst, you may have retired by then.

Nelson: No, I know who you mean now. I did keep up with the retired faculty with the meetings at the end of the year. I presently give a scholarship for students majoring in statistics and I’ve been doing this on a yearly basis. I’ve also signed up for a scholarship for unlimited time. I haven’t put in the money yet. I was going to do it when the stock market was a little higher. I’ll probably do it for a lifetime, but it will become effective at my death so there will be money given to the university to take care of that.

Lack: That’s really great. Is it for an undergraduate or a graduate student?

Nelson: For an undergraduate student. Of course they might use it that last year to go into graduate studies or something. There’s no limit as long as they’re still in an undergraduate program so they could end up getting the scholarship for the year after they graduate really.

Lack: For someone who specializes in statistics. That’s great.

Nelson: That’s what I mentioned awhile ago. I felt very honored by the fact that the university was giving me a few good years here to teach and felt like I needed to pay them back someway. I had gone to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but I hadn’t done anything there so I felt this would go into the university system anyhow. That was my thinking.

Lack: Have you met any of the students who…

Nelson: Oh yes. Each year we’re invited to a dinner and the students come to that dinner. Not every time do they come, but when they do come, I meet them. I think we go every year.

Lack: So it’s the Carl Nelson scholarship student. That’s always neat.

Nelson: Several of the departments I think are doing that.

Lack: It’s always nice for them to meet and know they may not have been able to take college courses if it hadn’t been for that. So you always enjoyed teaching your statistics. Did you like some of the other classes more than others that you taught besides statistics?

Nelson: Well I really enjoyed all my classes. I usually liked the courses like calculus and statistics probably a little bit more than the elementary courses, but I didn't dislike the elementary courses. It just seemed like a little bit more of a challenge to teach the other courses so I enjoyed it a little more I guess.

Lack: Did any of your children follow you into mathematics?

Nelson: Well my oldest child, he’s 51 on August 6 which is not very far away, he is a professional engineer. He went into mechanical engineering, took that at the North Carolina State University. My second boy, he went to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He has been a sports enthusiast all his life so he ended up…he started out I think in business, I’m not certain, but he migrated over to physical education.

My third boy went to East Carolina, they spread around. He graduated in business (laughter), I have trouble remembering what they graduated in. It seems so long ago. My fourth boy had no thought of going to college. He was sort of a mechanic from the word go. As a young child, he always helped his daddy get the right tool and all that. He was a mechanic from the word go and liked to work on cars.

He went down to Florida and got in with a swimming pool firm down there and after six or seven years with that firm, he decided to go into business on his own. So he’s now servicing and maintaining and repairing everything relative to swimming pools. It’s a good business. He and another boy went together and they got some others to help them out and they’re doing very well down there. He’ll probably do better than the others because he has business and the others are just in a … you know working for somebody else department so it makes a difference.

Lack: Yeah it really does and down there in Florida, that’s the right state for a pool business, that’s for sure. Well what I’ll do is turn off the tape for just a moment take a little break. And wrap things up later on.

During the break I was saying that after the break I would like to talk about some of the people that you’ve known and worked with, gotten to know over the years who had ties to the university or who were otherwise active in Wilmington and you mentioned a few. A few of them happened to be members of the math department, but you got to know them a little bit more after, well Roland Nelson was physics I believe. No relations to you, is that right?

Nelson: No relation.

Lack: Can you tell me how you got to know him?

Nelson: Well I got to know him especially when we went to retire and went up to the University of North Carolina, a special retirement service. He and four others besides myself I believe retired at that particular time so I got to know him real well at that time. I knew him before through bowling, but it was a coincidence that we both retired at the same time.

He goes to the Presbyterian church right down the road from us and we have services together, the Methodist and Presbyterian churches so I see him at all the services and likewise he comes over to our church. We alternate years. We usually see him there and at the bowling alley. He likes to golf and I’m not a golfer. I wish I had taken it up earlier because I do like sports.

Lack: Right, you probably would have liked it. Meanwhile you do bowl and you also square dance, belong to a square dance club.

Nelson: Yes, I belong to a square dance club. I initially got into square dancing in 1960-somewhere in the 60’s I got into square dancing. We danced at a building on the east Duke campus in Durham, North Carolina. The students expelled us from there because we were too noisy (laughter).

Lack: (Laughter) That’s a good story.

Nelson: I didn't think we ever so noisy, but we played, a lot of square dancing, round dancing, round dancing. It’s not all western style music as you might think of it, but we have a lot of tunes that we learn to dance by. Especially round dancing, you have a lot of very popular tunes that you’ll hear on the radio now still, and rather classic ones. We were taught by a relatively classic square dancing teacher, Neal Tracy. He was a professor at the University of North Carolina. His father I think was a ballroom dance teacher and so he taught round dancing.

See, round dancing is so much easier than ballroom dancing as far as I’m concerned cause they tell you what to do. So you have a series of steps that you learn, maybe 75 steps for example, and you can do those steps by the person telling you what the next step is. It’s like a caller in square dancing except they call the cue, they cue the steps for you so you don’t have to think. All you have to do is like a robot, you have to react quickly to what they tell you to do just like you do with square dancing. I don’t know how I got off on that tangent there.

Lack: I had never even heard of round dancing so it’s like popular music type thing. Tom Brown is also a square dancer?

Nelson: Yes and he round dances too. His wife died a few years ago and he’s engaged now to another lady. Her husband had died several years ago and so they got together and they’re engaged to be married.

Lack: And he was in the mathematics department?

Nelson: Yes, he’s still teaching here. He’s about a year or two older than I am. We were about the oldest ones in the department. I think he’s in his late 70’s and I’m 76. So he’s probably 78, I’m not sure.

Lack: And then you also have gotten to know Marshall Cruz?

Nelson: Yes, Marshall Cruz, I’ve known him through our bridge group for many years before I retired. We’ve had this group going on for a long time, but unfortunately we’ve lost some people through death in the group. Some of us are not in as good health as we were to say the least.

Yes, Marshall and Margaret Cruz, they like to play bridge so my wife and I play. We had two other couples who were active, but usually we just end up with two tables now. We used to have three tables consistently.

Lack: Now it seems like a number of math teachers get interested in bridge.

Nelson: I started out playing cards when I was about 7 years old. I didn't play bridge of course. I lived in Pennsylvania and my parents went to a lot of card parties at the school. So they earned money for their activities at school. They didn't get much money from the community so that was a way of earning money. So they had card parties and they had strawberry festivals and ice cream festivals, anything at all to earn some money. So I’d end up going to these parties with my parents.

I’d usually go there and meet some of the young people there. We’d do our thing, some other kind of games, but I also got exposed to a lot of card parties. In the neighborhood, we went to a lot of card parties. In fact we had some big snow storm, so the neighbors would come around with a horse and sleigh, pick us up and take us to their house and we’d play cards and go back home. So that’s sort of how I got interested to cards.

So I’d get to play, they’d be missing somebody at the card party and needed another person. So at seven years old, I started playing cards. I always liked it because with a mathematical background, you just automatically like games and keeping track of things. That’s what you have to do when you play cards, trying to remember as much as you can. I’ve always been fascinated with playing cards. Played a lot of bridge and canasta.

Lack: And Marshall Cruz is in that group still?

Nelson: Yes, right. He’s still playing. His health has not been good lately, but he still hangs in there. Have you interviewed Marshall?

Lack: Yes, he’s very active.

Nelson: He’s a very important person at the college.

Lack: Definitely. What other things have you been doing in your retirement? You occasionally get to the retired faculty association meetings you were saying?

Nelson: Yes, usually once a year. I’d like to take my wife, but she’s an avid bridge player so she often is tied up playing cards. I’d have to get her out of her card game to get her to come to the party.

Lack: Oh wow, so she’s a bridge player and a dancer. You two share two of your interests.

Nelson: She did bowl at one time, but she had back problems so she had to have an operation and quit bowling. I do pitch horseshoes. I don’t know many mathematicians that are pitching horseshoes, but that’s been a favorite of mine since I was a very young person. My dad participated in the senior games.

We have local senior games in the county and a senior game if you come in first, second or third in the county, then you can go to Raleigh and participate in the state games. If you take first, second or third there, then you can go to national senior games. This is a highlight year for me because the nationals are usually way off somewhere, off in the Midwest or way out west, but this coming year, the nationals are in Virginia. I think Virginia Beach in fact. I would like to participate in the nationals. It would be fun even if I can’t win. I participate in bowling and shuffleboard, croquet, horseshoes.

Lack: So have they had the state competition yet?

Nelson: No, it comes in October, the first week.

Lack: The county?

Nelson: I’d like to win first, second or third in a couple of events to make it interesting and go to the nationals. Last year, I did win the horseshoe pitching in the state. I’ve won it I think three different years, but it seems like in between years, I don’t do so well. You have to do well every game. Anyhow I’m hoping this year to come in in first, second or third so I can go to the nationals.

Lack: Well that would be good.

Nelson: I did beat the fellow that won the nationals last time. The nationals are held every year. The fellow in Raleigh that was not from Raleigh, I’m not sure where he’s from, but his last name is Smith, I can’t think of his last name. He won the nationals and he didn't lose a single match in the nationals. So I had to play him this last year and I did beat him. So I feel like maybe I can do fairly well in the nationals if I can beat the fellow that won the nationals.

Lack: That’s great, yeah. That’s always the tricky part, consistency.

Nelson: Last year he beat me the first game, no I won the first game by maybe 10 or 15 points. He beat me the second game by 10 or 15 points. The third game he was leading me. He had 10 points and I had none and then I suddenly got hot and beat him 23 to 10 or something like that. You never know how you’re going to do. It’s just happenstance. At least if I can come in first, second or third, that’s all I’m really interested in. I don’t care whether I get state or not, well I’d like to.

Lack: Sure, then you can go to nationals. And your wife used to bowl also?

Nelson: Yes, she used to bowl and she quit bowling after her back operation. I think that was probably a wise decision. She loves to play bridge so she spends a lot of time doing that and working with some activities in church. Keeps her busy.

Lack: Do you have an interest in boating with your background?

Nelson: No, no interest in boating. I wouldn’t mind going on a cruise, but that’s my interest in boating. Let somebody else do the boating.

Lack: Or go down to the beach and walk around.

Nelson: Right, I love the beach. I love to swim.

Lack: Swim in the ocean.

Nelson: When we first came here, we’d go down to the beach every, well that’s one thing, when we first came, oh, I want to live down at the ocean and swim all the time. Well the first year we came here, I didn't get through school until about 4:00. We’d take off to the beach and I’d swim for a half hour or so and come back in and then walk on the beach. So I got into that routine and did it almost every night during the summer when it’s nice weather and you can do it other times when it’s warm enough.

So I do love the beach. I guess that’s one of the reasons for coming down here. It’s funny now, I never go down to the beach. Not because of the fish that are out there that are somewhat bigger than I am, but you get out of the habit. It’s funny you talk about the big fish biting people.

Lack: Right, I never thought to be scared about the fish either.

Nelson: But it makes you think now, doesn’t it?

Lack: Yeah, it’s not a bathtub or a swimming pool (laughter). It’s their space, not ours.

Nelson: There used to be schools of fish come through there, just little nibbles. They come in and you could see them in the waves would be so heavy and thick with them.

Lack: Well I guess you’re just doing other things and can’t always get to the beach. Well I appreciate your thoughts and reminiscences. It’s really good to hear your perspective about everything you did and your career here and everything you’ve done since. Any other thoughts?

Nelson: Right now, I’m at a loss for any words. I think I’ve expended myself here.

Lack: Well you’ve done a great job. Thank you very much.

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