DOROTHEA NELSON

From an article from the July 6, 1951 issue of the St. Louis Park Dispatch:

Miss Dorothea Nelson, director of recreation for St. Louis Park, after years of experience in this country and abroad, says: “There are always new fields to develop in the realm of recreation. Whether in a large city at home or abroad, the vocation of recreation holds a challenge for the director to do something new. It is necessary to find a program to build, or one is likely to go stale.”

“Here in St. Louis Park, challenge is met at every turn. While the village government has had a ten-year program of acquisition of playgrounds and development, home building is now so widespread, that it is necessary to grab sections of ground in each new development, to meet the needs of the children for play places.”

While St. Louis Park was incorporated in 1886, and is not new historically, it is brand new in the widespread building of homes. Originally platted as an industrial village, the entire layout has been changed and is now, a place of homes.

Here, an old house is almost a curiosity. The population is approximately 25,000. Of this number, about 10,000 are children under 12 years of age; and about 5,000 tots are under six years.

Sixteen playgrounds are in active use this summer, serving every age group with suitable programs. Some of the grounds are well developed and equipped, others are in the process of being developed. A city-wide cooperative program is financed by the Community Fund of St. Louis Park, the Park board through the village council and the school board.

Being the possessor of a fine singing voice, Miss Nelson started her educational life to be a singer. She majored in music and coordinated a program of training for recreation in the University of Minnesota [in 1918].

Later she decided to make recreation her life work. For several years she was director of athletics for girls and women for the Minneapolis park board. Later she went to Louisville, Ky.
 

Activities for women and girls in the Chicago Park district was her program for four years more [1934-1938]. She directed leisure time activities for the Women’s Benefit association for three years.

Later she went to the American University in Washington, D.C., where she took training for club and field directors of the Red Cross.

She spent a year in travel in Europe. When war came, she went to England, North Africa, Italy and Corsica. She organized and directed Red Cross clubs in Italy and Corsica.

From there she went to Japan and became field director of entertainment for the American forces in the northernmost, Ainu Island. At this point, men were being released from service. The Red Cross was acting as liaison between the arrivals and the civilians.

From Japan, Miss Nelson went with the Army of Occupation to Halzburg, Austria, where she did Red Cross work for three years. Once more at home, she is developing a new program in St. Louis Park.

End of Article

Dorothea Undine Nelson was the first full-time director of a suburban recreation program, and the first woman director of recreation in Minnesota.  She was an advocate of women’s and girls’ recreation and athletics.  She became Recreation Superintendant in April 1948. 

 

In an article in the Sun dated June 9, 1986, Nelson was described as having a “flamboyant personality.  She was always in the public eye and many times she expressed herself by wearing large, colorful hats and an abundance of jewelry.”

Ms. Nelson retired as Superintendent of Recreation in October 1962. A farewell dinner was held on November 8. On November 8, 1962, the park at 26th and Florida Ave. was named Nelson Park in her honor. Her replacement was Ken Batscheller.

Ms. Nelson was tragically killed in a car accident in Edina in May 1967.

See also Parks and Recreation.