Northfield Shares and Minnesota DNR Benefit from Community Member’s Major Gift

Northfield Shares, a community foundation centered on philanthropy and volunteerism, announced today that Donald H. Nelson has donated the Engeseth-Rinde Farm to the organization. The farm, which sits near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, will be added to the new Prairie Creek Wildlife Management Area.

Nelson worked with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Northfield Shares to arrange the sale of his property, the Engeseth-Rinde Farm. Nelson

Don Nelson on the Engeseth-Rinde Farm

Don Nelson with the trees he planted at the Engeseth-Rinde farm. Photo courtesy of Gene Bakko.

sold the farm to the DNR and donated the proceeds to Northfield Shares to create an endowment that will support restoration, research and education activities.

When asked about this donation, Nelson said, “I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I visited this farm often. I wanted to keep the farm in the family. Since there is no one in my family who would like to farm the land, I had to find another way to protect it. Selling the land to the DNR was the best way to make sure that the land would be protected.”

Joann Bell, Nelson’s sister, also grew up visiting the Engeseth-Rinde farm. She says, “We grew up in South Minneapolis. Visiting Aunt Lena [Helena] and Uncle Andrew’s farm was a big thrill for us city folks. It was really quite a treat. They ran a beautiful farm.”

The Engeseth-Rinde farm is now called “The Engeseth-Rinde Unit of the Prairie Creek Wildlife Management Area” and work is already in progress to open up the property for public use. Over the coming years, the current crops and woods will gradually return to prairie, wetland and oak savanna.

A Wildlife Management Area protects land and water for wildlife habitat and wildlife-related recreation. The Prairie Creek Wildlife Management Area was established in 2014 when the DNR acquired the 460-acre Koester farm, three miles away from the Engeseth-Rinde farm.

Northfield Shares will use the proceeds from the endowment, which totals $462,000, to support activities at the Engeseth-Rinde Unit, the Koester Unit and other natural areas in between as time goes on and the fund grows.

Craig Ellingboe, Northfield Shares Board of Directors President, says, “This is a very exciting time for Northfield Shares. Conversations are just beginning regarding all of the exciting initiatives that can come out of a gift like this.”

Northfield Shares has plans to use the endowment to engage with area students at all levels. The farm will become a place for research on prairie restoration and will be available for study by students at St. Olaf College and Carleton College as well as Northfield area students and other community members.

Nelson Family

Top, from left: Jake Barzen, Nelson’s grandnephew; Craig Ellingboe, Northfield Shares Board President. Bottom, from left: Don Nelson; Joann Bell, Nelson’s Sister; Cindy Huseth, Nelson’s Niece. Photo courtesy of Wendell Arneson

Ellingboe continues, “Don Nelson’s passion for the land and our community comes into full view with the finalization of this sale. The Engeseth-Rinde Farm is set to become an incredible addition to the Northfield area and is guaranteed to serve the community for generations to come.”

At 90-years-old, Nelson has a track record of generosity. A retired orthodontist, Nelson worked in Rochester at the Mayo Clinic. It was at Mayo that Nelson first got a taste for philanthropy. Throughout his life he has focused his giving toward ensuring that places for wildlife enjoyment continue to exist for generations. In fact, the Engeseth-Rinde farm is the third farm Nelson has donated. The first two farms went to Luther College and St. Olaf College, respectively. Each college sold the properties to the DNR, and both became Wildlife Management Areas. In 2000, Nelson also established the Henry and Agnes Nelson Family Endowment to support the curation of the St. Olaf College Natural Lands.

Speaking about her brother, Bell said, “Listening to him, you would never know that he was a dentist. All of his conversation is geared toward the environmental sciences. He is a land conservationist first and foremost.”

Another important player in turning Nelson’s properties into permanently protected conservation lands was the Minnesota Land Trust. Nelson worked with them to place conservation easements on all three farms, protecting the properties from development even if the state were to sell them. In the case of the Engeseth-Rinde Farm, Nelson donated the development rights to the Minnesota Land Trust, which lowered the value of the property and made it affordable for the DNR to buy the farm.

Engeseth and Rinde are two important names in the legacy of Don Nelson. Norwegian in heritage, these two families settled in the Dennison/Nerstrand area in the late 1800s. The Engeseth family built their homestead on the land that is now the Engeseth-Rinde farm. Nelson’s great-aunt, Helena Rinde, married into the Engeseth family. Nelson and his brother, Richard Nelson, bought the farm in 1982 without a clear idea of what they were going to do with the land, but with a strong desire to keep the farm in the family. Now, 34-years later, the farm has changed hands again, but will forever be tied to Nelson’s family legacy.

Northfield Shares is a Northfield-area nonprofit founded to advance philanthropy, inspire volunteerism and promote collaborative leadership. The organization was formed when 5th Bridge and Northfield Area Foundation merged. For more information on the Engeseth-Rinde Restoration Fund or Northfield Shares, visit