If you ask his former students what they remember most about Mr. Thomas Nickou, they will almost always talk about his incredible blackboard drawings. Using colored chalk, Mr. Nickou brought to life frogs and flowers, atoms and amoebas. His creative approach to teaching made him a favorite among the hundreds of students who passed through his classroom.
Like many artists, it is this effortless display that fascinates those who lack artistic ability. Though his talent comes easy to him, he will humbly tell you that his artistic development was purely practical – a skill that every science major at Cornell University needed to illustrate what they saw through the microscope.
After serving in the Navy, Mr. Nickou attended Cornell University Agricultural College and Syracuse University, where he completed his graduate work and met his wife of 51 years, Bernadine. They married in 1951 and shortly after moved to Liberty, where Mr. Nickou began teaching and where together they raised four children.
Mr. Nickou’s career as Liberty teacher spanned 31 years, from 1953-1984. During that time, he embraced the challenges and opportunities bestowed upon him. Not content to simply teach, Mr. Nickou helped develop science curriculums including non-regents biology, geology and earth science; he developed a hands-on program for elementary level science, a drug and alcohol awareness program and a CPR program; he started and advised the Biology Club, First Aid Club, the Junior Ambulance Club and the Annual Science Fair.
Professional involvement included acting as principal of the Liberty Summer School program for 20 years and Science Department Chairperson for six years; President of the Liberty Faculty Association and numerous affiliations including the Science Teachers Association of NY, where he directed the Southeastern zone. Mr. Nickou was an active part of the New York State Education Department and the Board of Regents where he helped write general science and biology regents exams. He also served as an adjunct Professor of Biology at Sullivan County Community College.4
Before and after his retirement, his commitment to Liberty and Sullivan County is evidenced by his involvement in numerous organizations. He has been an active leader in both the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts organizations, was a charter member of the Town of Liberty Ambulance Corps where he served on the Board of Trustees and was the Education Officer. Tom was active in the American Red Cross and was an advocate and trainer for first aid, CPR and other life-saving coursework. Today, he is a very proud volunteer at the Museum at Bethel Woods, where, incidentally, visitors have the opportunity to purchase a custom print of his watercolor of Yasgur’s Farm.
Upon his retirement, Mr. Nickou began indulging in what his Wall of Fame nominator, (and LCSD Wall of Fame 2011 inductee) Howard Schue calls his “watercolor hobby.” His “hobby” work is on public display at the Catskill Regional Medical Center and the Liberty Diner, and he enjoys painting landscapes of the places he and his wife had visited. As Mr. Schue writes in his nomination “many of his students were relieved to find he was as good at drawing the outsides of flora and fauna as he was drawing the insides.”
As stated by Mr. Nickou, his most significant accomplishment as a
teacher is the success of his former students. Over the years he
has received many phone calls from his students recounting their
professional and personal achievements. One such call came from
Mr. Schue, who wanted to tell him that he had graduated from West
Point and had just designed, built and launched his own satellite
with NASA. According to the ever-humble Nickou, “I was just
fortunate to be able to do what I love and teach that to others.”