The most important influence on any college or university campus is an effective and dedicated teacher, a man who devotes himself wholeheartedly to the study of his specialty and just as wholeheartedly to sharing his knowledge with others. Such a man was Ira S. Nelson, Professor of Horticulture at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. I have always felt that his employment, which was my first official act as newly-elected President of the University, augured well for my administration in that office. Ike, as he came to be known affectionately to all of us, was the type of teacher whom every university president hopes to appoint, but rarely finds. He was a gentleman, not in the sense in which that word is often used to designate merely the social position of one's parents, but in its truer sense: an innately honorable, thoughtful and dedicated man.
At the time of Ira Nelson's death, I was in the hospital under sedation after surgery, and that sad news still seems to me to be unreal. I cannot realize, even after months have passed, that Ike is really not at Southwestern any more. I have never felt able to go back to the department which he labored so long and so efficiently to build to its present state of excellence: a department where he was never too busy to take time out to guide even the humblest person through his laboratories and green houses, revealing in his modest way the promising discoveries which he had made in some tropical land and which, through his loving care and knowledge of plant breeding, he was developing into even more beautiful specimens.
Although we shall-never cease to grieve for Ike, we are fortunate that he left such a wonderful person to assist in carrying on his work. Barbara Nelson was a most efficient helpmeet to him, not only as his wife and the mother of his fine family, but as his under-study and constant companion in his plant-breeding research. I believe that Ike would smile his most satisfied smile - the same smile with which he always showed his most precious discoveries - if he could look in at the Ira S. Nelson Ornamental Horticulture Center and see that way in which his work is being carried on.
It is gratifying to me to drive along the crowded Abbeville highway and see the memorials built there for two great teachers: the Stafford Blackham Coliseum and the Gardens named for Ira S. Nelson, who came to Southwestern from his native Missouri bringing beauty, gentleness and loyal friendship to mark the path along which he traveled.
Countless times during the past few months, some person or another has said to me, "How I miss Ike Nelson!" I miss him too, as do all of his friends, but I am thankful that we were fortunate enough during his lifetime to be associated with this great teacher and Christian gentleman.