Dr. John Nichols has spent 48 years at Maryville College, four of which were as a student. Nichols has served under five presidents and at least 10
college deans. He has experienced two curriculum reviews and thousands of students. Finally, it is time for Nichols to retire and move on to the next chapter of his life.
Nichols grew up on a farm in Walland, just down the road from MC and next door to Blackberry Farm.
The 30-acre farm belonged to his grandfather in those days.
After Nichols’ grandfather passed away, the land was split among his children. As that generation sold off the land, Nichols bought what he could, and today he owns about 20 acres of the farm on which he grew up.
“As a boy, I helped my grandfather,” Nichols said. “Mostly I just followed him around and probably wasn’t that much help.”
While Nichols was attending Walland High School, he worked at Blackberry Farm as an all-purpose kind of worker. He served as a bellhop, washed dishes, tended flowerbeds, served food and even cleaned the pool.
While working, he met a few important people, including a couple of influential judges. Nichols said that being able to see a life so very different from his own inspired him to begin thinking about college.
As a freshman at MC in 1961, Nichols received a scholarship that helped him for most of his initial year. However, Nichols was from a poor family, and after his scholarship ran out, he paid every penny of his college tuition himself.
While attending MC, Nichols was given the chance to live on Blackberry Farm during the school year, while the members of the family who owned the hotel went back to their own homes after the summer had ended.
His job during those months was to check every room in the hotel at night to make sure no one had broken in and stolen anything. After finishing his rounds, Nichols would then go back to his room and attend to his studies.
“It was good for me that the family trusted me,” said Nichols, who kept this position for four years while he finished his undergraduate education.
After graduating college, Nichols spent his entire teaching career at MC and worked his way up in the mathematics division. He took two years off in 1970 to earn his doctorate, also in mathematics.
Recalling years passed, Nichols said that before MC had a J-term there used to be a three-week period called “interim” during which professors would teach courses outside of their own fields and learn the material with the students.
Nichols taught a couple of colonial history courses by taking his students to see colonial Williamsburg. While there, Nichols became very interested in the subject and even conducted his own research and wrote a paper.
Nichols also mentioned teaching a class with another professor that they called “What Makes a Car Go?” The idea behind the class was to teach students the basics of mechanics, like changing a tire, spark plugs and the oil. The class had a $20 fee per student, and Nichols said that 50 students participated in the course.
With the fee money, Nichols purchased a set of tools and two old cars for the students to work on. At the end of the course, the class auctioned off the tools and the cars and made enough money to give each student $10 back.
In addition to these two courses, Nichols also admitted to teaching two classes on how to make dulcimers.
“Those were great experiences I had in what we called the interim,” Nichols said.
A curriculum review ousted the interim in favor of the J-term we have today, which Nichols called “a whole new animal.”
“I kind of wish they would go back to that concept of teaching something other than your field and becoming learners with the students,” said Nichols.
Now Nichols is looking on to the future, both a little afraid and a little excited.
He intends to spend more time with his grandchildren and daughters and maybe even do some volunteer work. Nichols has put his name in to volunteer at the Townsend Heritage Center and is also thinking about opening up an antique shop for one day a week.
“I’ve got a barn full of ‘em” said Nichols, who is ready to get rid of his accumulation of antiques.
Nichols used to refinish oak furniture and said that he may go back to that in addition to potentially offering free tutoring to students who are interested, as time allows.
Another of Nichols’ goals is to visit all of the national parks.
Nichols said that he will miss the students most, but it is time for him to move on to other things.
No matter what Nichols ends up doing, there is no doubt that he will always have MC in his heart.