Dad's Eulogy

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Eulogy for George King Nichols.

Hello. My name is Mark H. Nichols. I want to thank all of you for being here today to remember my father.

George King Nichols had insatiable curiosity. His interests were wide and varied. He loved nothing more than a new topic to explore and understand. In my lifetime alone he built a sailboat, learned to make wine, studied bookbinding, completed an extensive genealogy of our family, became an outstanding photographer, learned accounting, reupholstered furniture, built furniture, completed the wiring, plumbing, and finish carpentry on an addition to his home, learned more than a little about computers, and continually strove to educate himself.

Dad was born in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania on September 4, 1925, and grew up in Falls, a small village on the Susquehanna River about 20 miles north of Scranton-Wilkes-Barre. His father, Basil Nichols was a section foreman for the Lehigh Valley Railroad for nearly 40 years. His mother, Hazel May King was the driving force in his family.

At age 7 he fell out of a tree breaking his right arm at the elbow. As a part of the healing process he was made to carry a pail of wet sand from the house, around the barn and back to the house. Each time he passed behind the barn he’d switch hands, as the sand was heavy. His mother, of course, knew this was going on and would add a lap at the end to make up the difference.

One time as a child he was invited to spend a day on the railroad with his father. At the mid-morning break everyone ate a little from his lunch pail. Dad was starving and was intent on eating everything in his pail. He was dismayed to learn it wasn’t even lunchtime yet.

In 1939 he was introduced to New York City when he and his mother traveled there by train for the Worlds Fair.

After two years of college at Penn State he went to Midshipman’s School and as an Ensign and later 2nd Lieutenant served as the auxiliary fire control officer on the USS Wisconsin. While he was on board, the Wisconsin completed her 2-year trials. I vividly remember him telling me about how the entire 800’ ship shook and vibrated as it moved through the water at more than 30 knots. He said when the ship fired a full broadside of all nine 16-inch .50 caliber rifles; the recoil would shove the ship sideways.

After completing his term of service to the Navy he returned to Penn State to complete his undergraduate degree. He worked as assistant manager and manager for GLF, a farm store chain in New York State for many years. At the outbreak of the Korean conflict his quick thinking showed itself. During WWII there had been a rubber shortage. Remembering that, he called the GLF warehouse and ordered all the tires they had. Borrowing a grain truck from the mill he went and picked them up. He then posted a sign in the window saying that they had tires. He sold them all before the news came out that synthetic rubber was now available and that the war in Korea would not cause a shortage.

He also figured out how to sell the then new power lawn mower. Putting one together at the store on a Saturday morning, he’d load it into the truck and drive around looking for someone using a push reel mower. He would unload the gas mower, pull the cord and start mowing along behind the guy. Once the guy asked for a chance to try my dad would make the sale. After selling several mowers this way his manager asked to come along to see how my dad was selling so many mowers.

Jobs for Standard Oil and American Cyanamid brought him to New York City again, where he stayed until 1962. At All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan he met Helen Riley, my mother. They were married on his birthday in 1960. In December of 1961 he took a job with the A. E. Staley Manufacturing Company here in Decatur. After a decade of many jobs he decided it was time to settle down to one job. He would work at Staley’s until his retirement in 1985. While there he was part of a team that patented a dry, compressible starch used in the manufacture of tablet pills. He very successfully managed the dextrose sweetener product. He also selected a new plant site for Staley’s in Lafayette Indiana.

He was busier than ever after retirement. He and my mother traveled extensively for the next decade with a travel trailer. They traveled from Maine to British Columbia, from Texas to California, and everywhere in between. He also began to attend photography seminars and started taking large format black-and-white pictures.

Together my parents traveled to England and Scotland and he was enthralled with the great cathedrals there. He returned by himself expressly to take pictures, but not before practicing long exposure pictures in central Illinois churches. My father wanted to know and understand a subject and was willing to practice in order to learn.

Upon becoming the treasurer for the Unitarian Fellowship he went to the library and checked all their books on accounting to teach himself. He delighted in any endeavor that allowed him to explore a new subset of the Dewey Decimal system.

For many years completing an extensive family genealogy filled his need for research and exploration. He traveled to libraries all over the country and researched hundreds of records and documents. My middle name, Hanford, is a family name. Chris and I are the 13th generation of our family in this country. Francis, Caleb, Abraham, Asa, Daniel, Nathan, Issac Sr., Issac Jr., Hanford, George Hanford, Basil, George, Mark and Christopher.

Photography was his great passion. He pursued it with all the intellectual might he could bring to bear. He would set up still life subjects of flowers or old shoes and take image after image, spending hours standing in the dark developing film and printing pictures from the negatives to learn how to coax the images he wanted from the camera.

After decades of learning the ins and outs of large format photography he plunged head first into digital photography. In the past few weeks he was considering buying a new iPhone 5s solely for the camera and the fact that it would always be in his pocket ready to use. He was signed up for a new photography seminar later this fall that included a discussion on use the iPhone to take pictures and he was curious to know.

His photographs hold special meaning as they give all of us a chance to see the world through his eyes.

For the past 5 years he shared life with Roberta. Together they traveled, went birding, hiked in the woods looking for wild flowers, attended concerts, and enjoyed each other’s company. Their relationship filled him with delight and happiness.

Both my brother Christopher and I were fortunate enough to travel with him as adults. This past spring Chris and Dad went to Washington DC to see the World War Two monument. And in July I went to Upper Peninsula Michigan with him to photograph waterfalls.

Chris and our father traveled to the American Southwest many years ago, including a stop along a very hot and dusty highway for a scenic picture. As Chris related the story to me, Dad sets up the tripod and then the 4x5 camera and its lens and hood, takes light readings, takes a test picture with the Polaroid back, more light readings, and finally the picture. While all this was happening, a car with dust covered windows slowed while the driver held up an instamatic camera and snapped a shot and drove off. Dad’s remark was that one of the two was right.

On a canoe trip I shared with him down the Current River in Missouri when it came time for dinner, he produced a frozen block of stew. We thawed it and had a perfectly delicious meal. He planned ahead and was willing to break convention when it suited him.

He imparted to me a love of books and of knowing - sometimes just for the sake of knowing. While I didn’t always see eye-to-eye with him I greatly valued his advice and council. I will miss his intellect, his humor, and the twinkle in his eye when he was full of mischief. I am honored to have had such a father as George Nichols, and I will be fortunate indeed to have a life as full and complete as his.

After three years of effort in the garage my father completed the building of a Snipe sailboat. On the day of its launching the belly band – a large canvas strap used to hoist it from the trailer to the water — broke, dropping the boat on the concrete. I turned to my Aunt Mary and said, “That’s my jolly Daddy.”

That’s my jolly Daddy.

Good-bye Dad.

Author's profile picture

Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.