Obituary: Longtime SM East history teacher John Nickels dies at age 77

John Nickels in his World Geography classroom at SM East, which is plastered with postcards his students have brought back from trips around the world, shortly before his retirement.

John S. Nickels, 77, passed away Tuesday September 10, 2019 at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission. He was born to Quentin W. and Georgiana S. Nickels in Dodge City, Kansas on May 7, 1942. Survivors include his sister Lynne M. Deister, brother Dr. Martin K. Nickels, cousin Michael S. Hales, nephews Christopher Deister, Deborah (Chris) Smith and Matthew Nickels.

John moved to Johnson County, Kansas in 1952 and resided there for the rest of his life. He graduated from Shawnee Mission (now North) High School in 1960 and the University of Kansas in 1964. In 1963 he interned with NASA at Cape Canaveral. Most importantly, he earned his teaching credentials from KU in 1965 and began his teaching career at Indian Hills Junior High before moving to Shawnee Mission East High School. His 48 years of teaching three generations of Shawnee Mission students was one of the longest tenures of any teacher in the history of the school district. John was deeply dedicated to his students and his teaching. In addition to his regular teaching, for 39 years he organized and led multiple domestic and international summer trips for students. John was the student manager for KU’s freshman basketball team and remained a life-long Jayhawk. He was equally enthusiastic in his support for the Chiefs and Royals. In addition to his devotion to his family, John loved his pets. He volunteered at Great Plains SPCA and occasionally took a resident home with him. John was multifaceted: affable, irreverent, loyal, a mentor, occasionally intolerant, (more frequently) generous, gentle giant and an avid collector. But the word best describing him is teacher. He demanded much from his students and they were the better for meeting his standards. John was both beloved and respected by his students, fellow teachers and even administrators.

A celebration of life was held on Friday at SM East.