By Steve Noe
Bill Nelson, who purchased a small lawn mower repair shop from his uncle in 1957 and built Rotary Corporation in Glennville, Ga., was a longtime supporter of education and built a strong relationship with Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga.
When Erk Russell became coach of the school’s football team in 1981, Nelson was one of the first to step forward with a commitment to the Eagle program. Erk was known on more than one occasion to say, “We need more people like Bill Nelson.”
Well, following in the footsteps of his father, who passed away in 1999, Ed Nelson, who currently serves as president and CEO of Rotary Corporation, is certainly one of those people. The Nelson family and Rotary Corporation recently made a significant contribution to Georgia Southern’s Athletic Foundation, agreeing to fund both the Hall of Fame in the new Ted Smith Family Football Center, which is located inside Paulson Stadium, and the “Field of Dreams” between the stadium’s east end zone and the football center.
The Hall of Fame will be named the Bill W. Nelson Hall of Fame and serve as a permanent recognition of inductees with highlights, including the rich history of Eagle football. The “Field of Dreams,” which provides a game-day experience for children 12 and under, measures 48-feet wide by 144-feet long and features artificial turf.
“The Nelson family and Rotary Corporation have ‘Joined the Journey’ in a major way,” said Georgia Southern University President Dr. Brooks A. Keel. Ph.D. “On behalf of the entire Eagle Nation, we express our sincere appreciation for their incredible support of our football program.”
Tom Kleinlein, director of athletics at Georgia Southern, added, “The Nelson Family as well as Rotary Corporation have made a significant impact on the future of Georgia Southern Athletics through their generous gift. The Bill W. Nelson Hall of Fame will enable us to showcase Eagle football with a permanent tribute for our distinguished inductees. With the Field of Dreams, future generations of Eagles can play a pickup game while watching our Eagles and dreaming about one day becoming an Eagle themselves!”
Since Paulson Stadium opened in 1984, kids have enjoyed sliding down the hills and playing football in the end zone. With stadium expansion and upgrades earlier this year, athletic department officials were determined to maintain certain traditions like this for future Eagles. “Thus, the ‘Field of Dreams’ became a reality,” said Frank Hook, director of donor relations for Georgia Southern’s Athletic Foundation, who along with Kleinlein, came up with the “Field of Dreams’ concept. “It’s one of those special traditions in college football that will continue to make a Georgia Southern game like none other in the country.”
Speaking on behalf of his mother, Helen, and sisters Tara and Traci, Ed Nelson said, “We are proud to be a part of ‘The Journey’ for Eagle football. My father understood the value of quality education and how important access to higher education is for the people of southeast Georgia.
“Over the years, we built a strong relationship with Georgia Southern. In fact, many of our employees at Rotary are alumni and many have family members who either attended or have children in school at the University today.
“We feel the growth and excitement of Georgia Southern football is worth the investment. We hope our gift will inspire others to support the University through their own gifts. It has made a strong impact in people’s lives throughout Georgia and beyond.”
OPE Editor Steve Noe