Joel Nelson provided sound for 2013 Farmfest. This was one of many events Joel provided sound for. -- Photo submitted
Joel Nelson provided sound for 2013 Farmfest. This was one of many events Joel provided sound for. -- Photo submitted

A toast to Joel Nelson; Long time sound man passes away at age 64

Published 11:18am Thursday, July 31, 2014

When the Mower County Fair opens next week, someone who’d been a part of it for almost four decades will be missing.

Joel Nelson, owner and founder of Nelson Sound Electronics, passed away July 23, 2014, after a short illness. Many knew Joel, 64, for running sound for several area events.

“I think he really pulled from those hometown roots, and gave back to the community where he could,” said Joel’s daughter, Nancy Mathisen.

Joel worked the Mower County Fair for 37 years. He also provided sound work for 12 other fairs around the area. He enjoyed the smaller pieces of sound work, such as paging information and announcements, announcing winners of various events, judging contests, putting speakers in the barns, setting up microphones, and helping with the free-stages.

“His work wasn’t work to him; it was his passion,” Mathisen said. “He just loved every aspect of it.”

Many remember his golf cart zipping around the fair.

“You’d always know where to find him, in that way. Something would happen and he’d have to go tearing off,” Mathisen said with a laugh. “He never wanted to sit still at a fair.”

Austin and beyond

But the fair wasn’t the only place people remember seeing Joel. Justin Bickler, one of Joel’s longtime interns, recalled providing sound for many different events with him: Miss Minnesota pageants, Hormel Foods Corp.’s annual meetings, school plays, local and national parades, and even Rose Bowl work.

He also worked with the Eagle’s Cancer Telethon for about 25 years, Farm Fest for 24 years, Dakotafest for 19 years, Minnesota Spring Barrow Show for 16 years, and the National Barrow Show for 26 years.

“Joel was very national,” Bickler said.

Bickler met Joel about 25 years ago as a Pacelli High School freshman through a play and has worked events with him ever since.

“He’s been a friend, he’s been a mentor, he’s been like a brother,” Bickler said, adding Joel was “always smiling and [had] a huge heart.”

Nelson Sounds Electronics does about 250 projects each year, including church and school installations, according to Bickler.

“I’ve been blessed to be a part of all those shows under Joel’s leadership,” Bickler said. “A great friend that will be dearly missed.”

Bickler hopes the business will continue in Austin with Joel gone. Danny Muzik, another longtime employee of Joel’s, said the business will try continue as usual for the rest of the season

“[We’ll] get everything done as if Joel were here,” Muzik said.

After that, Muzik wasn’t sure what will happen or who will be in charge, as decisions have not been made by Joel’s family.

Joel Nelson, hard at work in the early days of Nelson Sounds Electronics.
Joel Nelson, hard at work in the early days of Nelson Sounds Electronics.

Muzik started working alongside Joel about 31 years ago when he was 13. He would ride his bike to the business, which was in the back of Joel’s garage, and duplicate cassettes, put on labels and box them up.

“I was the shipping department,” Muzik said. “When people saw Joel a lot of times they’d see me next to him.”

Muzik recalled being included in many things Joel did, meeting people from all over the United States. Working with Joel, he was able to watch Joel’s daughter, Nancy, grow up, and would joke that he had a little sister.

“Through him being my employer, I became part of his family,” Muzik said. “It was an honor.”

‘A kid at heart’

Joel’s passion for electronics started at a young age. Mathisen recalled her grandmother’s story about taking Joel to the store to pick out a toy, but he came running out with an extension cord. After that, he went around the house extending lamps and other devices.

“He’d always kind of had an affinity for electronics and tinkering with things like that,” Mathisen said.

During high school, Joel would joke that he was the quintessential nerd.

“I think he actually had a pocket protector,” Mathisen said.

Joel worked for Austin High School’s audio visual department, pushing projectors around to classrooms. Through his involvement at the high school, he became involved with the Miss Minnesota pageant, which at the time was held in Austin. He attended Winona State University, but left about one credit short of a business degree to start Nelson Sound Electronics in Austin in 1971.

Through his involvement in Miss Minnesota, Joel made connections in other states and started doing sound with other state pageants, including Illinois, Tennessee, Mississippi and Maryland. At the same time, his business offered reel to reel recordings. While working with pageants, he met his wife of 10 years, Marlo Nelson.

They owned two homes, one in Austin and one in Illinois, a little more than five hours apart.

“We always said that whenever we traveled, if anything were to happen, if the car broke down or something, there would always be somebody we could call in that state that would come out and help us, because of the vast friends that we accumulated through the various pageants and fairs,” Marlo said.

Because of Joel and Marlo’s love for Disney, they were married at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

“We decided, you know what, this is the perfect destination wedding because we both love Disney,” Marlo said.

“He was a big guy, but especially around kids, just a kid at heart,” Mathisen added.

Joel was known to make many close friends and could make anyone feel welcome.

“Mr. Hospitality,” Marlo said.

“He was just very welcoming, opening, a ‘let’s have a good time’ kind of a guy,” Mathisen added.

He loved to be with his friends, and Mathisen said he didn’t have many enemies.

Although he provided sound to well-known events, he loved to give back to the community, especially at his former school, Banfield Elementary.

“He did the sound for every little production they did over there, and he loved it. I mean that was like Miss America to him,” Mathisen said. “He gave the same level of professionalism and got as much joy out of that as he did from some of his bigger gigs. He was an Austin guy through and through.”

A toast for Joel

Joel was a huge sports fan, especially when it came to Minnesota teams and, after marrying Marlo, some Illinois teams. Mathisen remembered his love for the Minnesota Gophers, as the family often went to games and tailgated with family friends.

Joel Nelson and his wife Marlo Nelson tailgate before a Gopher game. This was a favorite family activity, as Joel was a huge Gopher fan.
Joel Nelson and his wife Marlo Nelson tailgate before a Gopher game. This was a favorite family activity, as Joel was a huge Gopher fan.

Bickler also recalled Joel’s love for sports.

“Huge sports fan,” Bickler said. “At any given moment Joel would have three to five different games on the television.”

One requirement for working for Joel was helping set up the satellite dish so he could watch the game wherever he went, Bickler joked.

This prompted the family to hold a tailgating party for Joel instead of a traditional visitation.

“We decided that we’d kind of throw a little tailgate party and have people wear comfy sports stuff and eat that kind of food,” Mathisen said.

She recalled his famous bloody mary — and his secret recipe — that he would make for people at various events.

“We’re going to serve some of those and give him a toast,” Mathisen said.


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