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Nelsons provide gift for Tomson Hall

By Kari VanDerVeen
February 11, 2011

"The fact that a current building could be reused and modified to fit the needs of the college today and going forward was exciting to think about," says Martha Arvesen Nelson '73. She and her husband, Brock Nelson '73, recently provided a $250,000 gift to Tomson Hall.

From the moment that Brock '73 and Martha Arvesen Nelson '73 learned that the old science center at St. Olaf would be transformed into a new home for several academic programs and a wide variety of student services, they began thinking about how they might support the project.

"The fact that a current building could be reused and modified to fit the needs of the college today and going forward was exciting to think about," says Martha Nelson, a member of the St. Olaf Board of Regents.

The Nelsons recently announced that they will provide a $250,000 gift to the newly opened Tomson Hall. Their generous donation delivers significant support for the re-purposing of a building in which the Nelsons and their four children — Thor Nelson '98, Haakon Nelson '00, Kolbjorn Nelson '02, and Berit Nelson '05 — studied during their time on the Hill.

Construction began last fall to renovate the 1960s-era science building into a modern facility that encourages connections between academic and administrative functions and promotes cross-disciplinary interactions. Tomson Hall now houses the Education Department and the college's six language departments, as well as the World Languages Center. It also is home to a number of offices that serve students, including Admissions and Financial Aid, International and Off-Campus Studies, Residence Life, Health Services, the Registrar, the Dean of Students, and the Center for Experiential Learning.

The facility plays an important role in the Main Street Initiative, which takes its name from the "main street" that runs on an east-west axis on the campus level of Tomson Hall. That corridor — with the Admissions Office on the west end and the Center for Experiential Learning on the east, and resources such as the Office of International and Off-Campus Studies in between — in many ways mirrors the academic journey of St. Olaf students. The Main Street Initiative aims to connect the first and last days of a student at St. Olaf through a thoughtful, integrated sequence of curricular and co-curricular programs designed to teach students how to shape and implement a vocation and career plan that aligns with their talents and interests.

The initiative is another reason the Nelsons decided to support Tomson Hall. "The Main Street Initiative gathers students, administration, faculty, and staff in a common space that will make it easier to carry on the good works and mission of St. Olaf," Martha Nelson says.

The generous gift by the Nelsons follows a $5 million gift by O. Jay Tomson '58, former chair of and currently a Senior Regent on the St. Olaf Board of Regents, and his wife, Patricia McCarthy Tomson '59. The building was named in honor of the Tomsons in recognition of their years of service to St. Olaf and their generous giving to the college. The college plans to raise additional money and employ revenue generated from the college's operations to finance the full cost of the $21.5 million project.

"We thank O. Jay and Pat Tomson for planting the seed of giving with us and are pleased to help make this fabulous building a reality with them and others," Brock Nelson says.

Brock, who serves as the president and CEO of Regions Hospital, and Martha Nelson, a volunteer with the Everybody Wins Reading Program, reside in St. Paul.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or