Steven C. Nelson was born in Worthington, Minnesota, and grew up in St. Paul. He began to work for The American Phytopathological Society (APS) part time in 1968 while an undergraduate student at Hamline University in St. Paul. He left APS in 1970 when he graduated from Hamline and went on to Northern Illinois University, where he earned M.A. and M.F.A. degrees in art. In 1973, he returned to St. Paul and full-time employment with APS and the other scientific societies served by Headquarters. He continued his studies part time in business administration at St. Thomas University.
He began work in the Publications Department as a graphic artist and was promoted to publications manager two years later. Nelson helped develop the compendium book series and establish APS PRESS. He was part of the team that created the journals Plant Disease and Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions. He also helped establish the Plant Management Network. As APS and the other organizations continued to grow from 10 employees to more than 60, Nelson held several key positions, including marketing manager, director of meetings, and general manager. He became a certified meeting planner and helped grow the Certified Meeting Professional program in its early years.
An active member of the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives for more than 30 years, he chaired numerous activities and offices on the Board of Directors, including president in 2006–2007. The organization is composed of 200 scientific and engineering societies, including APS. He provided leadership for the team that created the strategic plan and put in place the first staff team.
Nelson became executive vice president of APS and Scientific Societies in 1991 and served in that position until retirement on April 1, 2013. His responsibilities included providing leadership and direction for APS as well as the five other scientific societies that share Headquarters. As executive vice president, he was also responsible for retaining an appropriate staff capable of achieving the multiple strategic goals of the six scientific societies that share Headquarters. He challenged the APS leaders to think strategically and constantly adapt to new thinking and organizational structures. He represented APS in many external organizations and joint partnerships. In his forty-plus-year career, Nelson worked closely with many volunteer members, students, committee chairs, authors, treasurers, officers, and presidents. He promoted a strong partnership and trust between volunteers and staff and fostered creative thinking and a get-it-done attitude that helped build member value and financial health for APS.
Nelson was mentored by Raymond Tarleton from his first start as a part timer and it continues as he learns the skills of retirement. APS provided Steve Nelson an opportunity to meet many great names from the science who gave of their time and expertise freely to the organization. Many wonderful friendships resulted and continue. This was inspiring and rewarding as APS has grown into a highly successful organization.