After nearly a half century of quietly performing her duties as the administrative assistant to the dean of Minnesota State University, Mankato’s College of Business, Verone Nelson wasn’t ready for the hoopla surrounding her retirement at the end of June.
First, a front-page article in the Mankato Free Press—“must have been a slow news day,” she quips—then an interview with TODAY Magazine, followed by a grand retirement ceremony in the Centennial Student Union.
“I could stand up here and talk all day about her,” former Dean Marilyn Fox told Nelson’s family, friends and colleagues at the retirement reception in the South Ballroom. “A Verone doesn’t just come into your life; she remains there and becomes a part of it.”
“Look at all the people here,” said University President Richard Davenport as he addressed the capacity crowd. “Every time I’ve seen Verone the last 10 years, she’s always smiling.”
All the praise lavished upon her has been flattering, Nelson concedes, though a little overwhelming for someone unaccustomed to the spotlight.
“I don’t really like publicity,” she says. “I’m not that type of person. But it’s sure been fun, after all these years. I’ve been getting cards galore since The Free Press article came out.”
A week before her retirement became official after 48 years at Minnesota State Mankato, Nelson granted TODAY her second—and final, she said with mock firmness—exit interview in her longtime Morris Hall office.
“I’ve been thinking about [retiring] for a couple of years, but just wasn’t ready,” Nelson says. “Finally, this year I thought, ‘I want to travel, I want to have some free time, too.’”
Nelson admits that she was tempted to stay for two more years to make it an even 50 for her career. “I was thinking of trying for 50, but then I thought, ‘No, I don’t need to do that,’” she says, laughing. “Isn’t 48 enough?”
“No matter how busy things got, there’s always a calmness with Verone,” current College of Business Dean Brenda Flannery says. “She’s just a caring, generous and gentle person. You feel like when you’re around her, everything’s going to be OK.”
Nelson, 66, was raised on a farm north of Nicollet. After graduating from clerical school, she began her run at the University in May 1964, when she began working in the College of Education on the Old Main campus. She was promoted to administrative assistant in the College of Business in 1966 and remained in that department for another 46 years.
Raised in an era of limited professional opportunities for women, Nelson says she’s proud to have witnessed career options expand.
“Back then, if you were a woman, you were either a nurse, a teacher or a secretary,” she says. “I don’t think we had any women in business classes, and now there’s so many … I should have been taking classes all these years!”
Of course, the fashion trends have evolved dramatically during Nelson’s tenure. From miniskirts to mullets, bell-bottoms to baggy jeans, formal to casual, Nelson has seen it all.
“Oh yes, that’s been very interesting,” she says. “The culture has really changed; everyone was wearing suits back then. It’s not like that anymore.”
A relic from yesteryear sat prominently on Nelson’s desk: her vintage electric typewriter, a reminder of times gone by.
“Typewriters were the only equipment we had to type tests and letters until we received office computers in the early 1980s,” she says. “It’s amazing how technology has changed over the years, but I like working on computers much better.”
Nelson plans to enjoy her retirement with her two daughters and three granddaughters. An avid traveler, she hasn’t wasted any time plotting trips; she had planned an Alaskan cruise in July and a visit to Boston in August.
Although she knows it will be a big adjustment to not come into the office anymore, Nelson says that she’s ready to relinquish the personnel and budget duties that were part of her days in Morris Hall. “It’s been fun, all the variety,” she says. “It’s never been boring. I’ll miss the faculty, staff and students. But I’ve given myself enough time to prepare for retirement. I took my time and that helped.”