UMW Foundation Announces Establishment of George and Ellen Nelson Family Scholarship

This scholarship will be awarded annually to a Montana Western student who is an active participant in campus activities including athletics, clubs, and service organizations. The recipient must maintain a minimum GPA of 2.5 and be in good standing with the university. 

The love for Western has been passed down for generations in the Nelson family. Genevieve McCracken, Ellen’s mother, earned a teaching degree from Montana State Normal College (now the University of Montana Western) in 1930.

George and Ellen both attended Western Montana College (now UMW) and received their degrees in education. Additionally, George and Ellen’s daughter, Linda, attended Montana Western along with their granddaughters, Mackenzie and Madison Rask.

After George’s passing on October 16, 2022, the Nelson family felt that establishing the scholarship would be a fitting tribute to his legacy and also an acknowledgement of the connection the family felt to the university.

Raised in Livingston, Montana, George was active in athletics, where his love for the sport of basketball was sparked at an early age. After a successful basketball career at Park County High School, George came to Western to play for the Bulldogs. 

While at WMC, George earned all-conference honors for three straight seasons and played on basketball teams that either won conference titles or tied for them. The Bulldogs made regular trips to the national tournament during his playing days. As a senior, he was voted the league’s most valuable player. His four years on the court remain the most successful span in Western’s basketball history, and in 1981, he was inducted into the Bulldog Athletic Hall of Fame as a member of the first class of honorees.

After graduation in 1960, George served six years in the Army National Guard and simultaneously taught and coached in Conrad, Rudyard, and Shelby. He then returned to Western to pursue his Master’s in Education. He helped coach the 1967 Montana Western baseball team to victory in the Frontier Conference Championship and was again inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2021, this time along with the entire baseball team. 

After graduation, George served as athletic director and head coach of all sports at Belgrade High School. His seven-year coaching career there included achieving a 60-11 overall football record, six district titles, three divisional trophies, and a victory in the 1973 Class B State Championship. He was named Class B Coach of the Year by the Montana Coaches’ Association.

George returned to Western in 1974 as head football coach. That same year, he was selected as the head coach for the Shrine Football Game. His six-year Bulldog coaching career included a 1977 Frontier Conference Championship and a Frontier Conference Coach of the Year award. During his tenure as head football coach, George served one term as president of the Frontier Conference and one term as vice-president of the Montana Education Association unit at Western. In 2013, he was inducted into the University of Montana Western Hall of Fame for coaching the 1977 football team. George retired from coaching in 1980 and worked as the director of the Western Montana College Alumni Association until 1986. Under his leadership, the alumni association created the Western Montana College Athletic Hall of Fame. Before officially retiring in 1996 from WMC, George served as the director of student teaching and placement for several years. 

“We are grateful that the Nelson family has chosen to create this endowment that will forever honor the legacy of George, Ellen and their family. Their lifelong commitment to this university has been extraordinary and this scholarship will impact generations of Bulldogs,” said Roxanne Engellant, UMW Foundation Executive Director. 

If you would like to learn more about this scholarship opportunity and the University of Montana Western Foundation, please call 406-683-7305 or email