If I Only Had a Nicol

A few days ago the board of trustees of Saint John’s University met on campus, and the agenda included a vote to approve the final schematics for the Alcuin Library renovation and the Learning Commons.  This extraordinary project is our top academic priority in the Forward Ever Forward capital campaign, and the groundbreaking ceremony will take place on campus on the afternoon of April 22nd, Saint John’s Day.

An enthusiastic group of leadership benefactors have contributed over $11 million toward our $15 million goal for this project.  Each one of them has made a profound commitment to our students because it will transform a key facility, making it the “academic heart and soul of Saint John’s,” as President Michael Hemesath has put it.  Tom ’91 and Elizabeth Nicol are the most recent donors to join this leadership group.  When Tom shared this exceptional news with the trustees, I couldn’t help but ponder the intersection of our lives.

In the fall of 1986 I was waiting in the guidance office at Minnetonka High School when a senior with a huge smile approached me.  He introduced himself as Tom, and within about thirty minutes he knew my life story, and I knew his.  As an admissions representative for Saint John’s I was the sales guy, but by the time I had walked out of the school that day, I was sold.  At seventeen years old, Tom Nicol had me fully engaged as he talked about his family and, in particular, his grandparents who lived in St. Cloud.  Bob and Marguerite Nicol were very special in Tom’s life, and Saint John’s University was a dream destination.

Tom was attracted to Saint John’s because it fit his personality, and it was a place where he could expand his horizons while deepening his relationship with his grandparents.  Just last fall I attended Marguerite’s wake.  She passed away at 95.  Bob, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for over thirty years now, is 100 years old and he still plays golf at the St. Cloud Country Club.  Tom shares Bob’s zest for life and his love of people.

To say that Tom fully embraced life at Saint John’s is an understatement.  He was active in many clubs and organizations, and while serving on the Saint John’s student senate he was appointed to serve as a student regent.  In that capacity he was a member of the search committee that ultimately nominated the late Br. Dietrich Reinhart as president in 1991.  Upon graduation Tom spent several months living with the Benedictines in the Bahamas, where he taught at St. Augustine’s College, the Benedictine high school in Nassau.

Deep down Tom knew that his passion was in sales, not teaching; so he returned to Minnesota for an opportunity to join Old Northwest Agents.  Bill Sexton ’55 had founded the company, and he met Tom during the board of regents’ presidential search process.  Tom believed in himself, and so did Bill.  Over the years Tom built a successful career in the health care and employee benefits industry.  All along the way he has kept Saint John’s close and he has consistently challenged us to strive for excellence, and to never settle.  Nicol is not a Settler!

This year marks Tom’s 25th class reunion.  Since the day he left Saint John’s he has served as an active class volunteer, including a stint as the class of ’91 chair of the Fellows Society.  For many years he served on the Saint John’s University Alumni Association board of directors, and today he is one of the youngest members of the board of trustees.  Tom is a proud Johnnie, and to this day he continues to sell Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s to families at Minnetonka High School and throughout the western suburbs of the Twin Cities.

The pledge commitment that Tom and Elizabeth have made reflects the value they place on education.  It also acknowledges a wonderful journey.  Their daughter, Marguerite, is a little too young to have college in her sights quite yet.  But who knows?  Perhaps one day she will find herself pursuing her academic dreams in the Dietrich Reinhart Learning Commons.