Former Mesa State Athletic Director Wayne Nelson passes away

Mesa State College lost one of its longtime coaches and advocates last weekend.

Wayne Nelson, who served in various capacities as coach and athletic director for 36 years,  passed away on Saturday at age 85 at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

Nelson began coaching at Mesa Junior College in 1955.

His basketball teams won four Empire Conference titles and competed in the NAJA national tournament in 1958. He coached basketball through the 1973 season.

Nelson also was the men’s tennis coach until 1989, coaching one of the teams to the national junior college tournament.

He also served as the school’s athletic director for 26 years.

This past February, the basketball court at Mesa State College was named in his honor.

In June of this year, the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference announced its All-Century Team.

Nelson was selected as the tennis coach of the century.

Jay Jefferson, who served as athletic director at Mesa State during portions of the 1980s, worked with Nelson in the latter’s capacity as a tennis coach.

“I know the coaches all respected him,” Jefferson said.

As a coach, “He expected you to do your job,” Jefferson said. “He was a good man.”

As athletic director at Mesa College, Nelson was put in charge of team housing when the first JUCO World Series was held in Grand Junction in 1958, a position he held for many years.

Current Alpine Bank Junior College World Series Chairman Jamie Hamilton first met Nelson when Hamilton was a member and later a coach of Mesa State’s baseball team in the 1980s.

When Hamilton joined the JUCO committee, Nelson was still serving on that committee.

“He’s a guy who was passionate about student-athletes,” Hamilton said.

Whether in his capacity as coach, athletic director or tournament committee member, “He approached all of them with the same level of integrity,” Hamilton said. “He was a nice man.”

Carter Elliott first met Nelson through tennis circles when Elliott and his wife, Lena, moved to Grand Junction in 1957.

“We used to drive our kids to Denver together for tournaments,” Elliott said.

When Bookcliff Country Club built its tennis courts in 1960, Nelson was the club’s first summer pro.

Nelson and his wife, Marie, helped the Elliotts with the first Western Slope Open tennis tournament, which eventually developed into the Taco Bell Open.

“We’re going to miss him, that’s for sure,” Elliott said.

The family has requested contributions be made to the Wayne Nelson Scholarship Fund in care of the Mesa State College Foundation, 1450 North 12th St., Grand Junction, 81501.

A viewing for Nelson will be held Wednesday at 7:30 p.m at Callahan-Edfast Mortuary in Grand Junction. Funeral services are Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 2542 G Road.


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