Good morning. For those who don’t know, I am Mark, the eldest son of Wesley Nicholas, and I’d like to share a few things about my Dad with you this morning as we remember, celebrate and give thanks for his life.
Wesley Bernard Nicholas was born on December 30th, 1946, to Joe and Isadora Nicholas, who were both in their mid 40’s when he was born. As an only child, he grew up in the small oil refinery and railroad town of Laurel, Montana, which sits on the banks of the Yellowstone River and just west of Billings by about 15 miles. Montana is well-known as the Big Sky Country and from the town of Laurel you have a good view of the Pryor Mountains to the southeast and the impressive Beartooth Mountains to the southwest. The reason I tell you this is that this place and these views were deeply imprinted in my dad and no matter where else he lived, no place could be or ever would be home to him like Montana.
Growing up the only child of older parents, my dad had a fascinating childhood in that he was exposed to a variety of things by HIS dad, who was a skilled and resourceful jack of all trades. His dad was the town’s deputy sheriff, the water treatment plant operator, mechanic, machinist, building inspector and a pilot, among other things. This meant that my dad had a broad view of the world and what was possible. As a kid my dad was a paperboy, played trumpet, was a photographer and earned his pilot’s license in high school. He also dabbled in hunting, golf, and wrestling, but the most formative and favorite activity of his childhood by far was being with his dad and working alongside him in their garage shop, which was a wonderland of tools, machines, oil, steel, bolts, and screws. It smelled industrious and wasindustrious. It was a place where possibilities could become a reality. And it was the place where my Dad’s jack-of-all-trades skills were cultivated and honed. (And … if any of you have ever been inside mine, my brother’s or sister’s garage, you will how see these values are still in play, a couple generations later :)
For example, in the back there is a photo of a homemade tractor that my dad and grandpa built together.
After high school, Dad moved to Bozeman and attended Montana State University, where he studied mechanical engineering. While there he connected with a girl from his hometown by the name of Barbara and they became friends, playing cards and hanging out socially. During that time, Dad became smitten with Barbara, and though I’m told it took some convincing, he won her hand and they were married in September of 1968. After graduation, Dad accepted a job as a manufacturing engineer at the Western Electric plant in Omaha, Nebraska, where they moved in 1970.
(Actually, there was a little stowaway onboard who also made the move with them. This guy, whom they hadn’t met just yet. ;)
So Omaha, Nebraska, became the place where my dad and mom set up their tents and raised their family. I was born late summer of 1970, a year a half later my brother Mike came along, and then 4 1/2 years after that, our little sister Wendy was born.
In thinking back over our dad’s life, there are so many memories, stories and values that I could stand here and tell you about. But for those of you here who have only known him the past 7 years that they’ve lived here in Middle Tennessee, I want to share a few of his meaningful traits with you, in hopes that you will know him and his legacy a bit better.
The first thing that comes to mind is our dad’s work ethic. As I mentioned previously, he was an engineer and worked at Western Electric (which later became AT&T). His job there at that plant was to design telecommunications connectors for cabling operations. In the 70’s it was all copper cabling but in the 80’s they switched to fiber optic cable connectors. He was a quintessential engineer and was always concerned with detail, precision and process. At the dinner table when my mom would badger all of us with the question “how was your day?”, when it was my dad’s turn he would tell about some supremely boring machine process and how it had to “be exact” and how the part’s variance could not be off more than “1/100th the thickness of a sheet of paper”. I still don’t know how thick a regular sheet of paper is and probably never will - but he did and he cared and that made him good at his job.
Dad was a self-described workaholic, but it never did interfere with family. His work life was deeply patterned and systematic - he went in to work early by 7am and was home by 4:30 on the dot every single day (this to avoid the non-existent ‘rush hour’ traffic in Omaha, Nebraska). He’d come in the house, drop his keys in the ashtray on top of the refrigerator and briefcase on the counter in the same spot. In the kitchen he’d kiss Mom on the cheek then head straight to his lazy-boy recliner to read the newspaper until dinner was ready at 5pm. In all our years at home, this pattern was as predictable as the sun rising in the morning and never wavered. Looking back, I am deeply grateful for the consistency that he offered, even in something as seemingly trivial as this.
My siblings and I considered our Dad to be an extraordinary and thrifty do it yourself-er and we grew up in awe of his abilities. Whether it was building us a treehouse, re-roofing the house, fixing the cars (I never once remember my dad taking a car in to a mechanic for anything), electrical, plumbing, repairing clocks, etc, no matter what it was, our dad could do or fix seemingly anything.
My dad was not selfish with his abilities and routinely shared them with others. He was the go-to guy for all the widows at church who needed their cars repaired, free of charge. He would be at church several Saturdays a month working on the antiquated boiler system so we could have heat the next day during services. He also ran the “tape ministry” at church, which meant that he would record, duplicate and distribute cassette tapes of the sermons to shut-ins around town.
Dad’s work and acts of services were very formative for us kids, and his actions showed us that we were to give ourselves away on behalf of others.
That sounds a bit like the way of Jesus as well.
Faith was a crucial element of our Dad’s life. He was raised by his parents (his mom in particular) as a Christian Scientist, which if you know anything about it, it is a pretty wacky religion. It was in college and during a time of searching that my mom invited him to a Bible study she hosted in her apartment. He became curious about Jesus and Christianity and after talking to a pastor there, eventually placed his faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ and developed a deep love for God’s Word.
As I mentioned earlier, he was always looking for ways to serve his local church, but throughout his Christian life, he and my mom supported many foreign missionaries as well, in a number of different countries, several of whom have become lifelong friends.
After retirement Dad became a Gideon and devoted much of his spare time to distributing Bibles and serving as Treasurer of the local Gideon chapter.
You can see the pattern here… a life well-spent serving others.
But there’s a couple more things I’d like to briefly add.
Music was so very meaningful to our dad. He loved playing trumpet and was a great player. In high school he was often asked to play “Taps” at military funerals, he marched in the Tournament of Roses parade one year and traveled many places with the Montana Centennial Band. In Omaha he joined the Western Electric company band and would play annual holiday concerts, in nursing homes and so on. He also played around on the saxophone and piano. One of my favorite memories as a child is that he and my mom would often play duets on the family piano to serenade us kids as we’d be going to sleep at night. Dad would take the high, melodic parts and my mom would take the lower, rhythmic arrangements. My favorite song in their repertoire was "Jamaica Farewell.”
And even though he let us play with it when we were older, it was clear that his large console stereo system was one of his most valued treasures, and he would love to play his albums or listen to music on the radio for hours on end.
For being a pretty reserved guy, music was the thing that kept his emotions right at the surface. He and my mom’s love for music permeated our home, and the net result is that we kids loved music as well.
My dad was kind of a quiet person and not one who ever looked for or sought attention from other folks. However, he was always quick with a joke or a quip. I’ve noticed in a number of the condolences that people have offered that they remember him as a funny guy. Dad liked to think that his humor was dark and even started writing a memoir a few years back that he titled “Dark Humor”. But truth be told, his brand of humor wasn’t dark at all - rather it was DRY humor or WRY humor even. Kind of like if Bob Newhart was a bit more awkward and a bit more silly - that’s the kind of humorist our Dad was. A lot of times, during a family conversation, everybody would be talking about a topic and Dad would be sitting there not contributing anything, but then POW, out of left field he’d toss out a quip, joke or funny observation. Almost like a non-sequitur, he was there just waiting to pounce with a joke or something that would tickle him.
His humor was the thing that let us know he was paying attention and that there was a world of thought going on inside his head.
Dad’s humor was almost always self-deprecating. In the back on the table, there’s a little life history printout that Dad wrote back in 2004 that would give you a small glimpse into his funny mind.
There is a lot I’ve left out and more I wish I could say to let you know about our dad. But in closing, there is a single word that I think sums up my dad’s life and his legacy quite well. And that word is Fidelity, which means:
Faithfulness to a person, cause or belief AND demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support. And also, accuracy in details.
Our Dad - and our mom’s husband - was faithful to us, his family. He was faithful to his friends and faithful to his God. He was loyal and always supportive. I heard him say several times that he wanted to be known as someone who always provided for his family. And by God’s grace, he was able to do just that. Thanks, Dad, for leaving us with a good legacy to aspire to and a story to live into. Your story was a good one and we are grateful for your fidelity in all our lives. We look forward to seeing you again in the resurrection, your body, mind and soul restored and glorified. Until that day, we’ll be missing you being here with us.
And while I’m being thankful, I want to publicly honor and give thanks to our Mom, who sacrificed so much in caring for Dad his whole adult life, but particularly towards the end as his MS became more pronounced and burdensome. Dad endured so much without complaint, and you were there with him, holding his hand every step of the way. I love you, Mom, and I can only imagine the truckload of crowns being readied for you in heaven. Thank you for setting a loving example of faithfulness too.
And finally, to my parents’ friends at Smyrna Baptist Church - thank you for your welcoming kindness to my parents in their relatively short time here. You have given them a place to belong and a church home away from their Montana home. May God bless you for this. To God be the glory.