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Tribute to a teacher - and friend

| December 12, 2010 9:00 PM

Uncle Nils,

What a surprise it was to hear of your retirement. I guess the pension plan ain't what it used to be because I thought you retired years ago [wink, wink, chuckle].

It was Fall Registration in 1991 the day we first met. I still can't believe how naïve I was. I remember it like it was yesterday ... I strolled into the building without a clue what to do. The registration room was packed to the brim with aspiring students. I was alone, and I couldn't even fill out the paperwork let alone figure out which classes I needed to take. I scoured the room for an open seat and found one - just one - and above it was a hovering sign that read "Journalism." Maybe it was the shoes or the white pants or something, but you reminded me of an old sailor that first day. You were running around trying to get people set up ... for college, for an education, for life.

Of course, you were recruiting. After all, the Sentinel needed fresh blood, and you took advantage. I suppose I'll never know what you saw in me, but I needed that paper. I needed that staff, those people (even if I was a pain). I needed a place to be.

You probably don't know how many nights I crawled through the window of the old Sentinel office because I didn't have any place to sleep. The floor was stiff, and trying to get comfortable lying on those chairs ain't easy, but it was warm and it was home, if even for just one night.

What a challenge I must have been: a chip on my shoulder the size of a boulder, a temper, rough around the edges, emotional and reactionary. Maybe you saw an opportunity to help a frustrated teen who had brains and talents and a future that had yet to be determined. I suppose you had seen it before, and I'm sure you have seen it since.

It's funny that many of us call you "Uncle" because you were more of a father for me when I needed a father the most. Of course, I could go on and on about our tennis showdowns (now that was a lesson) and your sheepishly bright expressions, but the positive and encouraging memories are too many to count.

I often wonder if things would have been different had I not sat in that chair under the "Journalism" sign so many years ago, but I never wish that I didn't. I may not be your most successful student, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who appreciates what you did for them more than I do.

Nils, you are one of the most caring, heartfelt people I've ever had the privilege to know, a great teacher, and a genuine humanitarian. Retired or not, don't ever stop being Uncle Nils.

Congratulations on your magnificent career. My only hope is that you realize what an amazing influence you are - not just for me, but for everyone you come in contact with.

I love you, and thank you ... for everything.

- Ryan the Rascal

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