November 16, 2015

2014 GAA – Leslie and Carl Nelson

The following SCA Great Achievement Award was presented
at the SCA Awards Banquet at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota,
on Friday, September 19, 2014.

“Doing volunteer work and making contributions to our favorite charities during our lifetimes, as well through estate planning, gives our lives a meaning and a purpose that truly blesses us as much as the recipients.”

Leslie Nelson and her late husband Carl Nelson would be outstanding recipients of the SCA Great Achievement Award for their lifetime of contributions in service to the Swedish-American community in the Upper Midwest.

Carl and Leslie both have (in separate terms) been members of the Board of Directors of the American Swedish Institute, as well as active volunteers in the Swedish-American community and members of many affiliated organizations in this area.

Carl was a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College with a degree in economics, and after a three-year stint in the U.S. Air Force during the 1950s, he returned to Minneapolis and started a forty year career advising others about stocks and bonds.

Leslie is also a Minnesota native, and the third child of a Lutheran minister. After a successful career as a systems engineer for IBM and raising a family, she moved to Florida. She and Carl were married in 1985, at which time she moved back to Minnesota, switched careers and joined Carl in his brokerage business.

When Carl was on the ASI Board, we were early in the stages of planning for a major campus enhancement. Carl took a keen interest in this effort and gave much of his time as a trustee to working with ASI staff and consultants to give shape to a campus plan that would better serve the future interests of ASI, its members and our community.

As the plans took shape and the budget began to be calculated, Carl recognized the importance of someone, some donor, making a lade gift to anchor the effort and give it momentum. Carl and Leslie discussed this privately, and the disclosed their intentions to make a $5 million gift to the ASI for its Linking Generations, Linking Communities capital campaign.

This was a breathtaking moments for those involved. As large as it was, this gift was more than a monetary contribution – it was a vote of faith in the important role to be played by the ASI as a regional and national leader in preserving the history of the immigrant experience and in linking Sweden and this country in meaningful ways. With Carl and Leslie’s commitment, the ASI leadership was able to move forward with confidence in further developing its plans for a new cultural center, for critically-needed renovations to the Turnblad mansion, and for public spaces, including parking.

Unfortunately, Carl did not live to see the completion of the new ASI campus. Leslie, however, continued to play a role in the life of ASI, stepping onto the Board during the final years of the capital campaign and lending her encouraging words to those in the community whom the ASI was actively soliciting to provide support. She also enrolled in volunteer training sessions at the ASI and, thus, when she is in Minnesota, is often found at the ASI’s front desk welcoming visitors to the Nelson Cultural Center and the ASI.

Without Carl and Leslie Nelson, the American Swedish Institute would have faced enormous challenges in striving toward its goal of construction as new cultural center and other campus enhancements. I the past year, ASI welcomed more than 125,000 visitors to its campus and now has the capacity to fulfill its mission to be “a gathering place for all people to share experiences around the themes of culture, migration, the environment and the arts, informed by enduring links to Sweden.”

Carl and Leslie Nelson richly deserve the honor of being recognized with Swedish Council of America’s highest honor, the SCA Great Achievement Award. Our community has been immeasurably strengthened by their involvement and their generosity in ways that sustain our ongoing ties to Sweden and deepen our appreciation of our heritage.

The Nelsons were nominated by Bruce Karstadt, President and CEO of the American Swedish Institute.