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Senior Lifestyles

Akron native gets UA diploma 72 years later

10/3/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

BATH — When Max Nelson graduated from The University of Akron (UA) in 1941, he had a job waiting for him as assistant to the treasurer of the university. Still, the $2 fee for a copy of his diploma was still too much.

“You could buy it, but you didn’t have to, and with an apple being just 5 cents, he thought he could put that money to better use,” said Jim Nelson, Max’s brother and a member of the Bath Township Board of Trustees.

Still, the graduate of Akron’s South High School, who ended up having a career as a university professor, never had a copy of his diploma. But by the time he died Sept. 22 at the age of 95, that wasn’t the case, thanks to the efforts of his family members.

Max ended up entering the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, serving in the Army and Pacific Theater. After that he enrolled at the University of Michigan, where he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in audiology and speech pathology. He was a professor at Michigan from 1950 to 1965 and then went to California State University at Fullerton, where he founded the first accredited program in communicative disorders. He retired in 1988 and lived the rest of his life in California.

Over the years, Max occasionally talked about his lack of a diploma from UA.

“He didn’t tell it to make a point about his circumstances,” said Max’s son, Bruce Nelson, of New York City. “But it was something he would tell every decade. He was never upset about it — it was just the way of the world. And having a big family, literally every penny mattered.”

This past summer, Bruce Nelson decided to do something about it.

“He called me and said, ‘Jim, we’ve heard this story so many times from Max, why don’t we do something about it?’” Jim Nelson said. “As soon as he told me, I jumped on it.”

Jim Nelson first called the Treasurer’s Office, but it was closed for two weeks. But he knew the former treasurer, so he called him, and he was able to get the ball rolling.

Jim Nelson went to pick up the diploma at Simmons Hall, and that brought back memories of his older brother for him, he said.

“When I was 6, he would take me up to Akron U and I can remember standing in Buchtel Hall meeting President Simmons,” Jim Nelson said. “I hadn’t thought about that in years, and when I saw the name, I remembered all that.”

Originally, Jim planned to fly out to California and meet Bruce to give Max his diploma, but Max ended up in the hospital.

“When he got sick, we decided we’re not waiting,” Jim said.

So they overnighted the document to Max.

“My stepbrother and stepmother were in on it, and they presented it to him,” Bruce Nelson said. “He said it was very touching. We are glad we had done it.”

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