Remembering Bonnie Nelson

Bonnie Nelson offers her thanks at the last department meeting of the 2015-2016 academic year, following the department’s recognition of her service upon her retirement ~ 4 May 2016

It is with heavy hearts that we share news of our emerita faculty colleague, Dr. Bonnie Nelson, who passed away yesterday morning after a cancer diagnosis in 2017 and a move to hospice care in recent weeks.

Friends and colleagues are invited to join family members for the burial service tomorrow (Wednesday, July 10) at 10:00 a.m. at Welcome Cemetery, located 20 miles south on KS-177.

Combining a kind and generous spirit with critical acumen and administrative tenacity, Bonnie forged new pathways in scholarship, teaching, and university life during her time at Kansas State. Her attention to women writers and her research on Restoration and 18th century drama changed the curriculum at K-State and shifted critical conversations about the period. She was a regular presenter at the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies (ASECS), always looking forward to its annual meetings and the friends she would see there. Her students discovered new perspectives and new pleasures in literature and writing as a result of her courses.

It seems appropriate the last photo we have of Bonnie from her time in the department (included above) shows her surrounded by women colleagues. Bonnie was a tireless advocate for the inclusion of all in the life of the university, ensuring that excellence in teaching, scholarship and creative activity, and service received due recognition and reward. Her initiative and persistence helped foster the more diverse, inclusive department and college that we have today.

Though modest about her own successes, Bonnie praised the work of her colleagues, shining a light on their accomplishments. Whether sending a hand-written note of welcome to new members of the department, sharing a call for papers on the department listserv, or advocating for faculty positions and resources, Bonnie always thought of others and how she could help them thrive.

Below is the citation drafted by the department to accompany Bonnie’s retirement in May 2016, marking her success and her commitment:


Arts and Sciences
Department of English
Bonnie A.  Nelson

Bonnie A. Nelson retires in May 2016 after 33 years of service to Kansas State.

Bonnie earned her B.A. (1965) and M.A.T. (1967) in English from the City University of New York, and her Ph.D. in English from The Pennsylvania State University (1981). She joined the Department of English as an assistant professor in 1983 in writing and literature, and she pursued both areas in her scholarship and teaching, with increasing attention to literature in subsequent years. Bonnie earned tenure and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1989. Of particular note are her administrative appointments as Director of Technical Writing (1989-1993) and Director of Women’s Studies (1996-1999).

Bonnie’s scholarship in both technical writing and in Restoration and 18th century British literature opened up new lines of inquiry in terms of gender and pedagogy.  These contributions have brought recognition not only to herself but also to the department and the university as a whole. As a teacher, Bonnie has won accolades from students and colleagues throughout her career.  Undergraduate and graduate students have valued her close attention to their writing, her enthusiasm for her subject, and her concern for their academic success. She twice received the Stamey Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Teaching Award (1989, 1990) as well as the department’s SAGE Award for Excellence in Teaching (2009) and its award for Excellence in Advising (2010).

For the college and the university, Bonnie has played a key role in advancing opportunities for women. In her first year, she was appointed to the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, and, since that appointment, has worked tirelessly and with great success to improve the academic and cultural climate for women at Kansas State. In addition to that initial appointment, she served as Chair of the Steering Committee of the Faculty’s Women’s Caucus (1989-1994), having an award named in her honor – the Bonnie Nelson Leadership Award (1994-2004) – to recognize the success of other women faculty and administrators to improve conditions for women on campus. Her advocacy for Women’s Studies, whether as faculty member or Director, has been substantial and long-standing.

With gratitude, we recognize Bonnie’s significant contributions to the fields of technical writing and British literature, to teaching, and to the mission of Kansas State University, and confer on her the title of Associate Professor Emerita of English.


During the next weeks, the English Department will identify some ways to recognize Bonnie’s contributions. We will post an update here, as those plans take shape. In the meantime, we send our sympathies and support to Bonnie’s family, colleagues, and friends.

Karin Westman, Department Head

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