“I cannot explain why, but I have been interested in history since I was a child in elementary school,” Dr. Larry E. Nelson, retired Professor of History, said as he opened the 5th William C. Moran Address on Thursday, March 24 in the Lowrimore Auditorium.
The Moran Address, a parting lecture delivered by retiring professors, has been an annual event since 2005.
Nelson’s address titled, “There is Life After Retirement,” featured a story about a member of Hartsville’s prominent Coker family, Hannah Lide Coker, who during the Civil War was able to maintain a rare form of communication with her sons who were in combat, especially her oldest son, James Lide Coker.
Nelson opened his address with a brief introduction of his years at Francis Marion University as professor and administrator. Though he retired in 2009, his love of history continues.
“Now that I am retired, the teaching and administrative activities of my career have ended, but the reading, the research and the writing continue,” Nelson said. “I expect that my love affair with history will last as long as I live–or until my cognitive functions conk out.”
Nelson then spoke about some of the places that he and his wife, who is also retired, have traveled to since his retirement. Many of the locations reflect his passion for history.
“My ongoing fascination with history has significantly influenced our travels,” Nelson said. “One of my interests is World War II in the Pacific, and we have been to some of those sites.”
Nelson described particular sites: some beautiful, others reminders of the horrors of war.
“We spent several days on Peleliu, an island in the Western Carolines, where American and Japanese forces fought a bloody battle from mid-September to late November 1944,” Nelson said. “I saw the wreckage of Japanese and American tanks, warplanes and landing vehicles. I saw, scattered across the jungle floor, rusting field pieces, machine guns, Browning Automatic Rifles and unspent ammunition.”
“I walked and crawled into bunkers and caves where Japanese defenders fought to the death,” Nelson said. “I sometimes encountered human remains.”
Nelson then recounted the story of Hannah Coker, a story that resulted from research of his true interest, the American South.
Nelson’s account of a mother’s passionate fight to save her children in the midst of danger contained insight into the local region, and other areas of the South, during the Civil War. His account also provided information on the country’s medical system and its racial relations at a time when the country was culturally shattered.
Nelson ended his address by saying that though he is enjoying retirement, he occasionally misses his life in academia.
“In life after retirement, I have time to visit historically significant sites in distant places and to spend pleasant hours researching historical topics I have long neglected, but I would be remiss if I did not note the principal downside of retirement,” Nelson said. “I miss the intellectual stimulation and the camaraderie I enjoyed with colleagues inside and outside the Department of History when I was an active member of the faculty.”
Nelson earned his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University, his master’s degree from the University of Utah and his doctoral degree in History from Duke University.
During his 35-year span at FMU, he taught American and European history courses. He was also a member of numerous committees, such as the Academic Council, the Faculty Constitution Revision Committee and the Writing Across the Curriculum Task Force.
Nelson published several books, such as “Bullets, Ballots and Rhetoric: Confederate Policy for the United States Presidential Election of 1864” (1980) and several articles such as, “Black Leaders and the Presidential Election of 1864” (1978).
Nelson was also active in the community. Among several other honors, he was selected by the governor to serve on the South Carolina Humanities Council, served as Vice President of the Pee Dee Heritage Center and was involved with many historical societies such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Florence County Historical Society.
Upon Nelson’s retirement in 2009, he was the Chair of the History Department, the A.R. Avent Professor of History and the J. Lorin Mason Distinguished Professor.
The Moran Address is named for Dr. William C. Moran, who served as the Vice President of Academic Affairs at FMU from 1978 to 1992 followed by an eight year tenure as President of Lander University.
Other professors who have given the address include Dr. Roger W. Allen, Jr., professor of mathematics; Dr. Mary H. McNulty, professor of English; and Dr. Julia Krebs, professor of biology.
Although the address is traditionally attended by faculty, the message resonated well with students who attended.
“I really enjoyed it,” junior Kellie White, a chemistry/pre-pharmacy major, said. “I’m a history buff, even though I’m a pharmacy major.”
The address also provided students with an informal history lesson.
“It gave me a better insight on how families felt during the war, how mothers lost their kids and what they would do to get them back,” sophomore Quinteria Middleton, a psychology major, said.
Students were also pleased at the opportunity to listen to an experienced professor speak.
“I thought it was interesting to hear an older professor come back and speak,” White said.
English Professor Dr. Jon Tuttle’s opinion on how students would benefit if they attended the address reflected this sentiment.
“Students will gain a sense of perspective,” Tuttle said. “Someday you’re going to look up and realize your life is more than half over and you’re going to say, ‘Well then, this then must be who I am.’ Listening to a respected historian looking back on his own history reminds us that what we do with ourselves is important and that we ought to do something we consider worthwhile and valuable.”
“And history, of course, is beyond valuable, because who we are is determined in large part by who we have been,” Tuttle said.