CWU News

Former CWU President Ivory Nelson Honored by Kittitas County Commissioners

Former CWU President Ivory V. NelsonThe Kittitas County Commissioners today signed a proclamation naming February 2019 as National African American History Month in Kittitas County.

In conjunction with the proclamation, the commissioners named former CWU President Ivory Nelson as among the African American pioneers who have made a difference within the community.

“It’s a great surprise considering that this happened over 20-years ago,” Nelson said when informed of the honor. “To have someone think about you, you can’t be anything but excited and appreciative—nothing but feel good. My family also feels the same way.”

Nelson, who served as CWU’s president from 1992 to 1999, recalled that earning the distinction of becoming the university’s first African American president was not the primary reason that he pursued the CWU position.

“The fact that I was the first African American to be president of Central Washington, that was important and it resonated with me, but it was not my guiding force,” Nelson said, pointing out before coming to CWU had served six years as the first Black chancellor of the Alamo Community College District in Texas, which had four campuses and an enrollment of 35,000 students. He had also previously served as acting president of Prairie View A-&-M University, in Texas, and executive assistant to the Chancellor of the Texas A-&-M University System.

“With my experience level, I wanted to be president of a university,” he said. “It was the quality of my leadership, what I could do that was important.”

At CWU, Nelson says his proudest achievements were pioneering and expanding the university’s use of distance education, and seeing that the CWU University Centers, now at six locations along with two instructional sites around the state, became a recognized as part of Washington’s Master Plan for Higher Education.

“I think, by doing those two things, that solidified Central Washington in terms of making sure it was protected from decreases in enrollment,” Nelson stated. “We had centers in all these places, where we were providing educational opportunities, and could grow enrollments. And they were not all sensitive to the same [enrollment-limiting] things at the same time. That was the goal: to build that network appropriately and operate it properly.”

Nelson is also remembered as spearheading campus technological development, including ensuring that all faculty and staff had access to personal desktop computers.

Those achievements are just part of a long list for Nelson. During nearly five decades in higher education, he also as president at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania for 12 years.

In addition, Nelson had a highly successful academic career that included receiving a Fulbright Lectureship and induction into several nationally recognized education honor societies. And, he was featured in an edition of the “Gallery of Greats” calendar to honor of his impact within the African-American community. Nelson was also profiled in a book, “Distinguished African American Scientists of the 20th Century.”

Following his tenure at Central, the CWU Foundation honored him by establishing a $50,000 Ivory V. Nelson endowed Graduate Fellowship in Chemistry.

Now retired and living in Houston, Texas, Nelson remains active in higher education, serving last year as the interim provost at Jackson State in Mississippi. In addition, he lectures in higher education administration and serves as a student mentor at Texas Southern University in Houston. He says he also spends time playing golf with his wife, Patricia.

Along with Nelson, the other “heroes, leaders, and athletes of African descent,” honored during Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting were:

• Jimmy Claxton, of Roslyn, who, in 1916, temporarily broke the professional baseball color barrier when he played two games for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League, becoming the African American player to participate in organized baseball in the 20th Century.

• William Craven who, in 1975, became the state’s first African American mayor when he was elected to the post in Roslyn.

• Craven’s son Tom, a star CWU football player and United States Forest Service wildland firefighter who died battling the 2001 Thirty Mile Wildfire near Winthrop, Washington.

• Ja‘Warren Hooker, of Ellensburg, a member of the 2000 United States Olympic 4x400-meter relay team and University of Washington football and track standout.

Media contact: Robert Lowery, CWU Public Affairs, 509-963-1487,