Leonard Nielsen '74 Leaves a Legacy at Midland

Leonard Nielsen '74 Leaves a Legacy at Midland

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Joe Harnisch '01 and Leonard Nielsen '74

A mentor, a role model, a friend. Those are just a few words that symbolized what Leonard Nielsen ‘74 meant to Midland University. Nielsen passed away on August 24th at the age of 69. As a student and alum, he leaves a lasting impact at Midland.

Leonard graduated from Midland as a business administration major. While at Midland, he was involved in choir, Blue Key, and PBL while also beginning a longtime relationship with the Kappa Phi fraternity. Leonard worked as both an accountant and systems analyst in his career. He was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and moved back to Fremont, moving into his familiar house that sits on the east end of campus, remaining there until his death.

His proximity to campus helped him develop friendships with students, faculty, and staff across campus. It’s where he also forged his special bond with members of Kappa Phi. “A couple of guys came over and started helping me, and we became good friends,” Leonard told the Fremont Tribune in a 2015 interview. “I was in many of their weddings.”

Joe Harnisch ‘01, Controller and Associate VP of Finance & Facilities Planning at Midland, was a member of Kappa Phi and remained friends with Leonard long after graduation. He said one of the most endearing qualities of Leonard was his ability to make others feel like they were the most important person in the room.

“My experiences with Leonard were always very important to me, but they also seemed like the most important thing in his life as well,” Harnisch said. “I think it’s a testament to Leonard’s ability to make you feel like the most important thing to him when he was balancing hundreds of other relationships at the same time.”

Leonard served as a sponsor for Kappa Phi for more than 30 years. Harnisch said that might have meant some tough conversations with Kappa Phi members, but it served as a reminder that Leonard was always in their corner. “He could be hard on his young Kappa Phi brothers, and he pushed us to be better men,” Harnisch said. “Whether we recognized it then or not, our time with him made all of us better men.”

Leonard received an honorary doctorate degree from Midland and was honored with the Alumni Achievement Award in 1986. His legacy at Midland will live on for years with the Dr. Leonard C. Nielsen Courtyard in front of Miller Hall. Leonard and many of his friends and family were on hand for the Miller Hall ribbon-cutting ceremony in August of 2020.

While his name will always be synonymous with Midland, it was the relationships he built that will endure forever. “Leonard was able to make you feel that deep connection, no matter what circle you were part of in his life, and I know that’s part of what kept him going longer than any doctor expected,” Harnisch said. “He was so good at connecting, and he cared more about your story than his own.”

As he dealt with MS in his life, Leonard often leaned on his faith to get him through the challenges. It was a faith he often shared with others enduring challenges of their own. “I’ve told a lot of people that I wouldn’t trade the MS and the wheelchair and everything else for what could have been my former life,” Leonard told the Tribune. “This has been an incredible experience. I’ve met so many neat people and had a lot of fun. I’ve grown in my faith, and I feel that I’ve been able to help some others also.”

Visitation will be Sunday, August 29, 2021, at Dugan Funeral Chapel from 4:00-6:00 p.m. with a Masonic Service at 6 p.m. and a Rosary at 6:30. Funeral Mass will take place Monday, August 30, 2021, at 10:00 a.m. at St. Patrick's Catholic Church.

A celebration of life gathering will be held following the church luncheon at Lynn and Cindi Lamprecht's home.