Nelson received the honor during the Morrison Exon Dinner in LaVista last weekend.
Nelson represented the 35th District from 1985 to 1993, serving on the Judiciary, Education and Agriculture committees.
While in office, she helped craft legislation that created College Park, a consortium of postsecondary educational institutions based in Grand Island. She also chaired the state retirement system committee.
Nelson says she was surprised to learn of the honor, which she received before about 500 people attending the dinner.