Jeff Nicholson impacted many people in Revelstoke during his time as a teacher and school board trustee.
Now, his legacy lives on through a recently announced scholarship in his name.
The Jeff Nicholson Life Sciences Scholarship will be awarded yearly to a Grade 12 student pursuing further education in Life Sciences.
Last week, the Revelstoke School Board agreed to collaborate with the Revelstoke Community Foundation to establish the scholarship.
In 1971, Nicholson began teaching at Revelstoke Secondary School. After retiring, he served as a school board trustee from 1999 to 2018.
So far, the scholarship has received $5,000 in donations. That is halfway towards the school board’s goal, which will allow the scholarship to continue perpetually.
To contribute to the scholarship, visit the Revelstoke Community Foundation’s website.
For more on Jeff Nicholson and his legacy as a Revelstoke educator, see this feature by Melissa Jameson. The article first appeared in print in Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine’s April/May 2021 Home & Building issue. Read the entire e-edition here:
Remembering Jeff Nicholson
By Melissa Jameson
As a child, Matthew Nicholson would often go on hikes with his dad, Jeff. Growing up in Revelstoke in the 1980s, Matthew recalls there weren’t too many kids hiking on the trails.
“Climbing Mount Cartier, hiking the Eva Lake Trail and exploring the Keystone Standard Basin introduced me to magical vistas that have stayed with me to this day,” Matthew told the Mountaineer.
Knowing his dad’s love of nature, one day while out on a family hike, Matthew, who was in elementary school at the time, decided to put Jeff to the test. On a summer hike along the Eva Lake trail, they began talking about the problem of litter in the National Parks.
“Would you drop a bottle cap in the Park if someone paid you to do it?” Matthew asked.
“No way,” Jeff replied.
“What if someone gave you a million dollars to do it?” Matthew prodded.
“Never,” Jeff said, without a second’s hesitation.
A lifetime surrounded by loved ones
Born in Burns Lake, B.C. in 1939, Jeff played many roles during his life: husband, father, friend, scientist, teacher, school trustee, community member.
Sadly, Jeff passed away at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops on November 12, 2020 at the age of 81 from a sudden heart attack. His wife, Mengia, was at his side. He is remembered by those who knew him as a kind, intelligent, thoughtful, courteous and dedicated man who held a deep love of nature, a strong commitment to community, and a passion for education.
After nearly half a century together, Mengia has a lifetime’s worth of memories, but holds especially dear the early years she and Jeff spent in Revelstoke.
“When we got married and Jeff brought me to Revelstoke in 1972, I felt like we had arrived in the ‘Swiss Alps of Canada.’ We were deeply impressed by the deep snow, the community’s foresight to preserve Mount Revelstoke and Glacier as beautiful National Parks, and the community’s sense of history and heritage,” Mengia said.
“We both truly appreciated the caring and sharing qualities of Revelstokians as we got to know them.”
Making their long-term home in Revelstoke, Jeff and Mengia raised their two sons, Matthew and Peter.
“He indeed chose a special place for us to raise our family and to share 48 good years together,” she said.
As a teacher and a trustee, Jeff’s
passion for education shone through
A high school teacher for many years, Jeff found unique ways to engage his students. For several years during the mid-1990s, he’d often ask friend John Woods to give guest presentations to his Grade 11 Biology class. (The two had met sometime in the 1970s while John was working as a biologist for Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks. Jeff also held a Master’s of Science in Forestry and had worked for the Canadian Forestry Service in St. John’s, NL from 1966 to 1970. He made the transition to teaching upon his return to BC, earning his high school teaching qualification from Simon Fraser University in 1971. He began teaching at Revelstoke Secondary School the same year.)
John recalled with fondness, one particularly smelly endeavour he aptly refers to as “Elk liver lab.”
At the time, John was studying the ecology of elk in the mountain parks. His project included investigating a species of parasitic flatworms— “Giant liver flukes,” huge leech-shaped creatures that can grow up to six centimeters long— that could invade elk livers.
“Often encased in a hallow cyst the size of a chicken egg, within a liver the size of a turkey, discovering them was guaranteed to be something a student would never forget,” said John.
Jeff was game for the proposed “hands-on” laboratory, where students could take part in John’s research by dissecting elk livers from animals killed on the highway or railway.
After a brief introduction to parasitology, students were given all the necessary tools to complete the liver dissection, along with a bit of encouragement. John recalled many of the elk livers had been in carcasses along the highway for hours before being collected, with some being badly damaged by the liver flukes.
It didn’t take long for the smells to make their way to nearby classrooms.
“As the odours circulated down the halls by the school’s ventilation system, groans of astonishment could be heard from students along a rapidly expanding radius,” said John.
“This odoriferous wave prompted the principal to declare an early dismissal for the entire high school!”
Back in the lab however, complaints about the smell gave way to fascination as students discovered the large parasites.
“Some students became so enthralled that they asked if they could stay for the next class so they could look for more liver flukes,” said John.
“We continued to present the ‘elk liver lab’ to his classes for several years—although the dissections were moved to the farthest corner of the school playground!”
A well-loved and respected member of the school community, Jeff taught biology, science and math at Revelstoke Secondary from 1971 to 1999. After his retirement, Jeff joined the School District‘s Board of Education, sitting as a trustee until 2018.
“Jeff was a strong supporter of our public education system,” Board Chair, Bill MacFarlane, said. “He worked tirelessly to make sure our schools supported each and every student.”
Former Superintendent of Schools, Anne Cooper, first met Jeff in 1999 while he was still teaching. She remembers Jeff as a “serious, dedicated employee who loved his subject matter and was known for his gentlemanly demeanour.”
“After retirement, when Jeff became a trustee these same qualities shone. Jeff was always well prepared, read everything possible, asked good questions, and never for one minute made a comment or contributed to a decision that was not about the best interests of the district and children. He was kind, thoughtful and dedicated to the role,” she said.
A dedication to his role within the community
Jeff’s dedication to his role as trustee and passion for education is remembered by others as well, including board vice-chair Alan Chell and current Superintendent of Schools Mike Hooker.
Chell first met Jeff when he moved to Revelstoke 40 years ago. The two sat on the Board of Education together for 19 years.
Chell remembers Jeff was, “always extremely well prepared for meetings and would often show up with pages of notes from research he had done.”
Knowing how important it is for school trustees to know what is going on provincially, Chell said Jeff also established many friendships with colleagues from other School Districts around the province, particularly in the Thompson Okanagan region.
“Jeff was an outstanding school trustee,” Hooker said. “His kind and caring attitude was infectious. Well after retirement he would come into the School Board office to say hello and check in and offer his thoughts and observations.”
Jeff is survived by his wife Mengia, son Matthew (Chieko), grandson Hugo and granddaughter Sara, siblings Daniel, Millie, Connie, William, Ruth and Mari. He was predeceased by his son Peter, brother-in-law Pete and sister Barbara.