Joseph F. Nielson

November 10, 1925 ‒ April 11, 2018

Mount Vernon, Ohio

Joseph F. Nielson, age 92, of Mount Vernon, passed away on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 at his home.  He is the son of John and Estella Becktold Nielson, was born November 10, 1925 in Bristol, PA. He is survived by his wife of 69 ½ years, Esther, daughter and son-law Becky and David Erwin, son and daughter-in-law Mark and Joan Nielson, grandchildren Erin Rexroth (husband Phil), Kristen Hill (husband Brandon), Scott, Ben (wife Sarah) and Courtney Nielson, and five great grandchildren Haley, Harper, and Finley Rexroth and Maddex and Hayes Hill.  Preceding him in death are his three brothers, John, David, Robert, and two sisters Marion and Alice.

Dr. Nielson is a World War II veteran having served in the infantry on the front line in the Battle of the Bulge. He was then transferred to the military police where he became a first sergeant at the age of 19.  He entered the military as a Christian teenager but came home a Christian man.  He never wavered from trusting Christ while serving in the war.

After the war, he attended Olivet Nazarene College (University) where he met his wife, Esther. Upon graduation, he pastored 20 years serving Nazarene churches in Fredericktown and Bucyrus, Ohio and Saginaw and Mason, Michigan.  While serving in Mason he participated in several civic activities such as recruiting medical doctors for the community.  Under his direction, three medical doctors set up practice in Mason.  During his time in Mason he completed a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Sociology from Michigan State University.

In 1969, Joseph became a professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Olivet Nazarene College (University). During his time at Olivet, he created two programs for pastors— a Master’s degree in Pastoral Counseling and a Master’s degree in church management.  Both of these programs not only provided educational opportunities for pastors and lay people from the Nazarene denomination but also inter-denominational churches of the protestant faith.  In 1974 and 1979, he was voted Teacher of the Year and in 1975 he was selected “Who’s Who” in the Midwest.  Furthermore, he co-authored books and several articles for the Nazarene Publishing House.

As a layperson, he was very involved in his church, College Church of the Nazarene, located in Bourbonnais, Illinois. He served on the church board for over 20+ years, taught both adult and young adult Sunday school classes, and while his son was in middle school, he served as a Caravan leader.  He also served on several church district committees and boards.  Finally, he was a member of the Kankakee County Training Center, was on the village board of Bourbonnais, and he was a member of the Juvenile Division State of Illinois.

Finally, Joe was a committed Christian and loving father to his children and grandchildren, but more importantly husband to his wife, Esther. On June 16th of 2018 he would have celebrated 70 years of marriage.

Friends may call on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 from 9-10am at the Lakeholm Church of the Nazarene. A service will follow, beginning at 10am, with Rev. Scott Sharpes officiating.  Burial, with military honors provided by the Knox County Joint Veteran’s Council, will follow in Mound View Cemetery.

The family would like to thank the staff at Brookdale Mount Vernon for their wonderful care and compassion.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to: Lakeholm Church of the Nazarene (16001 Glen Rd. Mount Vernon, OH 43050) or to: Olivet Nazarene University –  Endowment Fund ( 1 University Ave. Bourbonnais, IL 60914)

To send the family a condolence online visit:

The Dowds-Snyder Funeral home is honored to serve the family of Joseph F. Nielson.



  • Dear Esther,

    I am so sorry for the loss of your husband. It has been a long road, and I know God has been by your side. My love and prayers are with you always.


  • God bless you Becky and family. What a great legacy that Prof. left. I am reminded of what was said about Enoch…though he is dead…he still speaks…through his students who call him Friend and through his daughter and family. Remember Augie and taco night. I will forever cherish the privilege of being his friend and the times we spent together at the house. We were all truly blessed.

  • Many memories of Uncle Joe have been flooding my mind. We spent four wonderful years in Mason,MI
    when he was the pastor there. Numerous meals and familyship were enjoyed with Aunt Esther and Uncle Joe. A great memory I have happened the year I was on maternity leave when Craig was born. On Thursday’s he would stop by and bounce many ideas off my head and we would have in-depth biblical discussions. The following Sunday when Uncle Joe preached, I realized the previous Thursday discussion was his sermon topic.
    Much love to the whole family!
    Sue & Randy Robbins

  • Dear Sweet Esther and family,
    So many memories of you and Joe have crossed my heart since reading of his death. He was my professional cheerleader at Olivet in 1969-1971 as I tried to imagine myself as a change agent in my seemingly little world. He expanded my horizons and offered me options I would not have even considered as feasible for me to pursue. I have referred to him often and prayed blessings over the two of you. Know that you will continue to be in my prayers.
    With my deepest sympathy,
    Susanna (Arnold) Fitzgerald

  • To Becky and Family,
    I was privileged to be a part of one of the early cohort groups for the Masters in Pastoral Counseling. Prof’s insights into human nature were greatly appreciated and helped to lay the groundwork for me in future academic studies. I also appreciate Prof’s friendship with my Dad, Glenn Evans, following his retirement in Bourbonnais. God bless you and your family and may you know His peace.

    Bill Evans

  • First met Dr. Nielson in the summer of 1969 at Indian Lake Camp just prior to his moving to Olivet. Thoroughly enjoyed his sociology and marriage and family classes, plus the Master of Church Management degree program. A great man indeed!

  • Dear Esther & Family,

    I am forever grateful for the influence of both Joe and you on my life through good times and some tough times. Joe encouraged and mentored me for most of my years by his humble wisdom pushing me to develop my God given gifts and abilities. He laid out possibilities and generated creative thinking. My educational pursuits exceeded my expectations because of his positive words.

    Esther, both of you have been so gracious and kind to Loretta and I as we continued to serve God both inside and outside of the church.

    Precious memories will not go away.

    Our love and blessings to you and your family,

    Lyn and Loretta Smith

  • To the Family of Dr. Joe Nielson,
    Joe’s legacy with forever touch thousands of individuals. Because of his vision, the Social Work major was started at Olivet Nazarene University in 1993. Joe was our mentor and wise leader. Because of Joe, hundreds of students have graduated from Olivet with a degree in social work and are now scattered all over the world making a difference in people’s lives.
    I will forever be grateful for his belief that people can change, for his leadership, and his strong Christian testimony.

  • To the family of Joe Nielson:

    What an influence and inspiration your family has been to our family. Without your encouragement and advice, we would not have survived and be as blessed as we are today. Thank you for your friendship, advice and love when we were most in need.
    May God richly bless you and lift you during this time of tremendous loss.

    Your generous love and caring will not be forgotten.

    Rachael and DuWayne Howe

    • Thank you for the kind words. I have fond memories of the people in the church. May God bless.

  • I am sorry for your loss of your husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather. Please know that your family are all in my prayers during this difficult time.

    Margaret Britt

  • I have attended Mason Nazarene for 80 years and found Joe to be the best pastor we ever had along with his wife Esther.
    Charles Welsh, Mason MI

  • Uncle Joe!! We had some great discussions dealing with the spiritual journey and the vicissitudes of life. I am appreciative of being among many that you mentored with such wisdom and care. I even enjoyed our ping pong games even though I never mastered the spin on your serve.

    Carole and I are grateful for the kindness and help offered to us by both you and Aunt Esther. We send our love and prayers to Aunt Esther, Becky, Mark, and their families during this time of loss but also of joy and celebration of your special life together.

    Don & Carole

  • Dear Nielsons-Dr. Nielson took me under his wings my freshman year at Olivet. I cannot recount in words how much I appreciated him. Perhaps in time I can articulate that to Mark….but not now for sure. He was a father figure to me; in many ways it felt like he treated me like a son. I sure wanted to please him with how I lived my life. He challenged me to live a life for Christ; not a life that was self-absorbed but one that was focused on following Christ in all situations and at all times. He taught me to be a family man; he taught me to be professional in my work; he reminded me of the importance of family. I hope he knew how much I appreciated him. His life is one to be celebrated and emulated. My prayers are with you all. God bless.
    –Bob Griffith

  • Dr Joe always had a ready greeting. He made room for all with his kind and genuine welcome. “How you doing?” He enriched those around him. Prayers at this time of significant loss.

  • May you have Peace, Grace and Comfort at this time. Esther I have thought of you so many times and yet I failed to get in touch.
    May God keep his loving arms around you. You are my inspiration.

  • I never forgot Dr. Nielson. He stood out as one of my favorite professors. Now I see I’m not the only one. I wish I had known him better. I had no idea he was residing in Mt. Vernon, my home town. I look forward getting to know him better someday. God bless you all.

  • Many memories come to mind of the years my parents, brothers and I spent under the pastoral guidance of Reverend Nielsen and Mrs. Nielson. Reverend Nielson was a great influence and friend of the family. He officiated at my husband’s and my wedding, 49 years ago.

    Sending our love and prayers to Esther, Becky, Mark and the family, on this celebration of our Pastors life.

    May God bless you with his love, and comfort, and peace in the promise, that life is everlasting.

  • Dear Esther and family,
    We were so saddened to hear the news of Joe’s passing. What a great man, always so upbeat and encouraging, and what a legacy he leaves behind! Since the ’70s we have many fond memories……of being in his ONU classes, of having him lead the “young married” SS class at College Church and shaping our “View of God”, of fellowship times in their home, and of Esther being our children’s pastor when our girls were young….they always called her “Aunt Esther”, and of our tearful farewell when you left Bourbonnais in 2005 to move to Mt. Vernon. When my parents moved to Bourbonnais in 2004, I always thought you and my folks would be such great friends, but we understood why you needed to make the move. (Mark or Becky, is there a current phone number where we can reach your mom?) Sending our love and prayers to you all, and rejoicing that one day we will all be together again!

  • Esther, Mark, and Becky,

    So sorry for your loss! Great memories of all of you. Praying for peace only God can give.

    Love, Marla (Erickson) Dubree