Nicklas says goodbye to 2nd family at retirement party


Bill Nicklas, former vice president of Operations and Community Relations, gives a speech at his retirement party Friday at the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center. Nicklas said NIU provided him a home and family when he needed it most.

By Kelly Bauer

NIU provided a home for Bill Nicklas when he said he needed it most, but at a Friday retirement party he said goodbye to his second family so he can focus on his children and grandchildren.

Dozens formed a line to say goodbye to Nicklas, former vice president of Operations and Community Relations, at his retirement party Friday. He pulled them in for hugs. He was “overwhelmed,” he said, at the “warm appreciation” he received.

“… I feel connected to so many people, and I saw so many of those people today. And I know I won’t be seeing them as much and working with them as much on problems that I identify,” Nicklas said Friday. “… It’s bittersweet, but it’s the right thing to do with my family.”

Nicklas came to NIU in 2011 after working as city manager in Sycamore and DeKalb; his new work gave him purpose after a year where he lost his wife, parents-in-law and friends, he said. Within a month of starting he felt like university’s community had become a family, he said.

“I was engaged; I was purposeful,” Nicklas said. “I felt very strongly that I was making a difference.”

Nicklas found that purpose among students and began attending Student Association Senate meetings. When the Senate didn’t meet, he found he missed it. The Senate named him an honorary member at its Oct. 26 meeting, and Nicklas wore a pin showing off his position Friday.

“… I found I connected because I found that I was no different than students who were searching for purpose and some meaningful work to do that was bigger than, in the case of the students, this or that course …,” he said. “They would leave something better than what they found.”

Nicklas became like a “big brother” to Baker when he was announced as NIU’s president in spring 2013, Baker said. By the time he retired, Nicklas oversaw the NIU Police Department and human resources and worked as a liaison to the Board of the Trustees, among other responsibilities.

“… My greatest accomplishment is I found people who were up to the task and were ready to work and make things better, and I was able to lead them without disappointing them,” Nicklas said.

Angie Bollinger, who worked with Nicklas, said he “definitely became part of the NIU family” and she is sorry to see him go.

“I think he comes in with a sense of respect and dignity that allows you to perform,” Bollinger said.

Despite his passion for his work, Nicklas began to feel as if he was making appointments to see his family and friends, he said. Over the summer, his 3-year-old grandson visited; after a week where Nicklas didn’t see the child as much as he’d have liked to, his grandson asked if he was ever home, Nicklas said. That moment led to Nicklas’ decision to retire.

Nicklas plans to focus on his three children and seven grandchildren, though he has no set plans.

“There will be many, many days and weeks where I have to find something meaningful and purposeful to do, but … being able to pull away to have that kind of time gives me a lot more flexibility to be a father and a grandfather,” he said. “I could have my hands full. I intend to try.”