Pioneering Adventure—Transforming Lives
You wake up in your Slumberjack bag to the smell of wood smoke and the sound of Doris “Mabel” Nielsen’s cheery whistle coming through the trees. You roll out of the Eureka Timberline tent—sore, tired—and she is there—joyful, awake—and she hands you a cup of tea or coffee to get you started on your day. You are one of her “Bird Dogs”— and you are here—leading at-risk kids on an experiential adventure through the woods.
For 26 years, Associate Professor of Recreation and Physical Education Doris Nielsen poured her energy into structuring experiences and opportunities for Houghton College students to enable them to develop the potential she believed they had within them. During that time, she spearheaded the creation of Houghton’s ropes course, launched the Highlander Wilderness Adventure program for freshman and transfer students, and developed Houghton’s recreation major. In 1988, Doris designed and ran the first STEP Adventure—an outdoor experiential program aimed at reaching at-risk youth in Allegany County— and, as always, she strapped on her own backpack and hiked along. In 1992, she became the program director for Upward Bound, a federally funded program designed to serve low-income high school students from Allegany and Cattaraugus counties whose parents had not gone to college. She founded Wilderness Adventures in 1993, a year-round program that offered Houghton’s experiential education to school groups. Through this program, her college students were able to have practical, hands-on leadership experience in the field of outdoor education. She retired in 1997.
“Her energy for being a catalyst was truly remarkable. But she did not just build programs; it was always about the people,” comments Nate Ransil ’93, director of Program Ministries at Sandy Cove Ministries. “She saw potential in us that we were not sure was there. She would say, ‘You know what you should do? You should be a STEP leader, Highlander leader, Upward Bound Tutor’—and we did!”
By the time the group finishes cooking their breakfast over the fire—Richmoor scrambled eggs that haven’t quite rehydrated correctly—Mabel has already been up for hours. Bible read, prayer list covered—she is ready to share a devotional thought with everyone from her dog-eared copy of Streams in the Desert. “Only the soul that knows the mighty grief can know the mighty rapture,” she reads. “Sorrows come to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.”
Doris “Mabel” (Garret ’71) Nielsen passed away on August 10, 2017. She is survived by her children, Marla (Nielsen ’83) Omdal and her husband, Dr. Daniel Omdal ’84; Dorislee “Dee” (Nielsen ’86) and Maher Dandan; Timothy Nielsen ’90 and Adina Nielsen; and six grandchildren including, Carly Omdal ‘15 and Jens Omdal ’16. She was preceded in death by her husband of 57 years, Ken Nielsen, and their son, Dale.