Growing up on a farm in central Minnesota, William J. Nelson developed a passion for both agriculture and education, which laid the foundation for his career in the cooperative system. Early in his academic career, Nelson made connections to the cooperative model that would shape his outlook and be the key to his vision of working to prepare future generations for leadership.
After earning undergraduate degrees in Sociology and Political Science from the University of Minnesota-Morris and master’s degrees in Studies of the Future from the University of Houston and Community Education from the University of St. Thomas, Nelson took a position at the University of Minnesota-Waseca, teaching a course in cooperative education. During the next 13 years, Nelson focused on education around agriculture, cooperatives, entrepreneurship and rural leadership and worked to connect the university and its students to real-world knowledge and experiences. Nelson also became involved with The Cooperative Foundation and served as its president for many years.
In 1992, Nelson was approached by Cenex, which later merged to become part of today’s CHS Inc., to develop an education grants program. For the next two decades, Nelson guided the CHS Foundation to a leadership role in cooperative education, encouraging collaboration and bringing together universities, businesses and cooperative leaders to educate the next generation. As president of the CHS Foundation and vice president, CHS Corporate Citizenship, Nelson has reached across all sectors to form new partnerships, strengthen ties and create innovation within the cooperative world.