Obituary — Eugene Walter Nissen


Eugene W. Nissen died peacefully at home Sept. 27, two days before his 96th birthday.

Eugene W. Nissen
Eugene W. Nissen

He was a retired professor of Biblical Latin and Greek, and an ordained Lutheran minister who served hundreds of Michigan congregations as a temporary “fill-in” pastor. He worked at the University of Michigan for almost 30 years, 20 of them as the assistant dean of student academic affairs for LSA.

He is survived by six of his seven children: Beth Nissen; Mary Nissen Whaley and her husband, Jay; Anna Nissen Barrett and her husband, Tim; James Nissen; Eva Nissen Lewin; and Steve Nissen. His son Jon died in 1995; Jon is survived by his wife, Kathy Cummings Nissen. Gene’s wife, Patricia Bonnet Nissen, died in 1997. 

Gene had nine grandchildren — Mary’s children, Nicholas, Gemma, and Edward; Anna’s daughter, Rebecca; Eva’s son, Elvin; Steve’s daughters, Natalie and Vanessa; Jon’s son, Jonathon Julius, and stepson, Vinate’ Cummings — and seven great-grandchildren.

Gene was a dedicated genealogist, who traced and told the stories of Nissen ancestors from the Frisian Islands in the 1600s to Iowa and northern Minnesota, where he grew up in the town of Park Rapids.

He wrote 18 volumes of family history, biography and autobiography, five volumes of collected sermons, and seven picture histories chronicling the birth-to-adult life of each of his children.

His book “Hats On, Hats Off” was a collection of photos of him in hats — and Gene wore many of them. He was an inventor, carpenter, artisan and skillful rescuer of perfectly good materials left on curbs.

He made furniture, interactive toys, stained glass windows and wine. He was a short-order cook — of family breakfasts, his famous pancakes (with one’s initials spelled out in batter or with raisins), and near-caustic chili.

He was a loyal Michigan Wolverines fan, who could cite what he considered the critical stats on dozens of student athletes: name, hometown, age and academic major.

He was innately fair. He was reflexively kind. He was sensitive, tactful, resourceful, encouraging and forgiving.

In lieu of flowers, Gene asked for donations to Habitat for Humanity or Samaritas.



  1. Jens Zorn
    on December 15, 2021 at 9:32 am

    I joined the Michigan faculty in 1962 and our paths often crossed when my issues with a student seemed beyond my administrative capabilities. It was amazing how often
    he could find friendly solutions to seemingly intractable problems.
    I soon learned that the University could not run without persons like Eugene Nissen … a man who carried enormous responsibility with astonishing grace, humor, and effectiveness. In committees, for example, it was remarkable to see how he would listen while tenured professors who had not read the memos would make outlandish suggestions . . .. and then Gene would calmly and politely bring the group back to reality. (I am reminded of Jeeves keeping Bertie Wooster from going off the rails.) I am among the many who will treasure his memory.

Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.