Upper school commemorates Howard Nichols’ birthday


Courtesy of Office of Communications

Howard Nichols speaks at the opening of Shah Hall. The school will honor him for his birthday on Oct. 10 by serving fresh baked chocolate-chip cookies.

“He was a man’s man, he was an employee advocate, and he was someone that anybody would aspire to be,” Facility Director Mike Bassoni said.

On Oct. 10, Harker will celebrate what would have been former Harker president Howard Nichols’s 77th birthday. Nichols died of esophageal cancer on Dec. 31, 2008, at 68 years old.

Nichols was named head of school in 1973, and went on to become president in 1992, when Harker Academy was renamed as The Harker School. At the time he became president, Harker only included kindergarten to eighth grade; Nichols and his wife, the head of school, added the upper school in 1998.

In 2005, the Nicholses retired and became a part of the school board. Nichols is remembered not only for his development of the school, but also for his compassion, humbleness and spirit. Spanish teacher Diana Moss, who began working at Harker in 1996, recalls that Nichols knew every employee and their respective spouse by name.

“The thing that I remember most about Mr. Nichols was his humanity, in the sense that for him, character was of extreme importance,” she said. “What I enjoy about teaching here at Harker is [that] there is an emphasis on kindness and respect for each other, and I just remember that Mr. Nichols showed that in so many ways.”

Bassoni started working at Harker in 1981.

“Mr. Nichols was a very caring, giving man,” Bassoni said. “He believed in the betterment of children; he was a huge advocate for their development and [for them] to be taught right from wrong, good moral standards [and to] become good citizens.”

Bassoni and Moss recall memories of Nichols picking up trash while walking around as a means of keeping the campus tidy, rather than calling for help.

“It didn’t matter what your role was for the school,” Bassoni said. “You could have been a principal of the division; you could have been a janitor or a dishwasher. He treated everybody the same.”

Nichols kept a jar of cookies in his office, for anyone who wanted to drop by and chat. To commemorate Nichols, Harker remembers this tradition every year by serving chocolate chip cookies on his birthday.

“I think he was just one of the most approachable administrators that I ever knew; you never felt like he put himself on a pedestal,” Moss said. “You felt like you could always walk into his office and ask him any kind of question.”

When Bassoni joined Harker’s staff, school was centered at the Saratoga campus, and around 100 students were a part of the boarding program. Nichols would lead Christmas Carols during the holidays as a means of helping student boarders feel comfortable.

Pullquote Photo

He was a man’s man, he was an employee advocate, and he was someone that anybody would aspire to be.”

— Mike Bassoni, facilities director

“He knew some of these children from halfway around the world: it was hard for a 10, 11, 12 year old student to be away from home,” Bassoni said. “He wanted it to be a nurturing environment for them to feel safe and that people cared about their well being.”

Nichols isalso remembered for his athleticism, from playing football and basketball while attending Palo Alto High School, to dominating in a staff vs. students basketball game.

“Very, very late in his career, he enjoyed putting on his shorts and his sneakers and going out and playing basketball with the students,” Bassoni said. “Most of us were out of shape, but Mr. Nichols, well into his 50s, could run up and down the court with any of the kids and play a really good game of basketball.”

Both Nichols hall and the recently added gymnasium have been named in honor of Nichols.

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on October 12, 2017.