John Nickel passed away on July 29 after battling cancer for more than 10 years. Husband to Barbara Nickel, father to Emily Douglas, Jamie Nickel and Luke Nickel, and grandfather to Adam Douglas, he is remembered as a dedicated teacher, fly fisherman, Northwestern football fan, Grateful Dead fan and history buff. A memorial service will be held at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 939 Hinman Ave., on Aug. 24.
Born on June 6, 1951, in Warren, Ohio, he grew up with four siblings: Nancy, Sandi, Scott and Natalie. He came to Evanston as a Northwestern student in 1969. Soon after marrying Barbara, he became a teacher at Red Oak Elementary School in Highland Park, where he taught for more than 30 years. Always a nature lover, he led a program to manage and protect a woodland grove adjacent to the school, mentoring students in environmental preservation.
His love of nature was fostered by fishing trips with his grandfather and father, especially to the Au Sable River in Michigan, and on road trips throughout the country. It was a passion he shared with his children and continued his entire life.
There were few reasons to cheer for the Northwestern football team when he bought his first season tickets in the 1970s, and few people did. He bore the torch as a true fan through the lowest years in the program’s history, attending almost every home game, loss after loss. He was thrilled to cheer for the team with renewed vigor when they achieved success in the 1990s and later.
He was happiest when barbecuing with family and friends in his backyard after a long day at Red Oak School or after toiling away the weekend on a home improvement project. If there was a Northwestern football victory to celebrate, all the better. Recalling past fishing exploits and road trips always made him glow with a smile and a familiar look of wanderlust. His family and friends will miss him deeply while he is away on his next great adventure.