Obituary — Eugene Walter Nissen

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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.

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