A memorial service was held for Ken Nielsen on Saturday, February 16, at 2 p.m. in Watauga, Texas, at the Northside Nazarene Church. Over 30 Houghton-related alumni, faculty, and administrators from across the country honored Nielsen’s memory and family by attending the service.
Nielsen began serving Houghton College as the food service director in 1961; he became the assistant business manager in 1965, and five years later was serving as the business manager. In 1972 he assumed a role now known as vice president for finance.
He remained the vice president for finance until his retirement in 1997.
“I never heard him raise his voice in anger,” recalls Dr. Daniel Chamberlain, former Houghton College president, neighbor, and close friend. “When I came in 1976 until he retired in 1997, I never heard him raise his voice once. He was a very soft-spoken man.”
After retirement Nielsen remained energetically involved in Houghton College part time. He served as both secretary and chair for the Willard J. Houghton Foundation. A former builder, Nielsen oversaw the building projects for the flats, some of the townhouses, and several community homes used for student housing before male dormitories were available at Houghton.
Nielsen and his wife, Doris, helped found and gain funding for the Step and Upward Bound programs. They also helped establish the ski slopes and nature trails, aided in the conception and execution of the Highlander Wilderness Adventure Program, and oversaw the construction of the college’s outdoor initiatives course. The Nielsen Physical Education Center is named in honor of Ken and Doris.
Nielsen was also a very active member of the wider community. He was repeatedly elected to both the Allegany County Board of Legislators and Sandy Cove Ministries Board of Directors. For ten years Ken directed Camp Sandy Hill, a Christian boys camp, alongside Doris who directed the companion girls camp, Camp Sandy Cove, in Maryland. After assuming a new role at Houghton in 1972, Ken continued to support Doris’ work by travelling each summer weekend to Maryland and returning to Houghton each Monday morning – “they served as surrogate parents to many people. Many of the [Houghton] students worked at Sandy Cove and spoke of them like parents,” remembers Chamberlain.
Nielsen’s knowledge and expertise in college and school finance enabled him to serve as a consultant to other institutions of learning in the process of accreditation or re-accreditation, in addition to freelance financial consulting.
Says Chamberlain of Nielsen, “He was busy, productive, he was soft-spoken, and never gave you the sense he was rushed. He was a very disciplined man.”
Serving God was also an intrinsic part of Nielsen’s life. He originally felt led to a pastoral vocation and attended seminary in the Philadelphia area, where he earned his M.Div. He became the assistant director of Youthtime Evangelism Fellowship (now named the Buffalo Christian Center), a program serving young people in congregations in greater Buffalo and in the neighborhood, including troubled youth. After working in Buffalo the Nielsens came to Houghton, and began impacting the Houghton community with their tenderness, hard work, compassion, faith, and vision.
“He was a totally remarkable man, and one that we miss terribly,” remarks Chamberlain.
The family requested that, in lieu of sending flowers, those wishing to memorialize Mr. Nielsen can donate gifts to Camp Sandy Cove Sholarship Fund ( www.sandycove.org )or to the Kenneth and Doris Nielsen Endowed Scholarship at Houghton College ( www.houghton.edu/giving ) which benefits students from Allegany County.