After nearly 45 years as a music teacher, Chris Nick doesn’t appear totally convinced it’s time to retire.
Her long career includes teaching for 42 years - which has included several generations of students - in Pequot Lakes.
As of June 4, the beloved elementary school music teacher so many students have lovingly called “Mrs. Nick” for so many years is retired. She’s handing over the classroom she ruled for four decades to a new teacher.
“It’s time. I want to be done when I’m healthy,” Nick said on a recent day while sitting in her Eagle View Elementary School classroom that’s so much roomier than where she once taught when Pequot Lakes Elementary School was part of today’s middle and high school building.
"The opportunity to be creative and have kids making music - I can’t get enough of the sounds of kids’ voices singing."
— Chris Nick, 42-year music teacher in Pequot Lakes
Nick obviously still has the passion, enthusiasm and energy for the job of sharing her love of music with her young students.
“For sure No. 1 is making music with the kids, singing with the kids - the creative process of adding instruments and writing songs,” she said of what she’s enjoyed most about her job.
"I like the way the variety of music can be used and mostly how it can enhance your emotions. It can make you laugh, cry, dance, see beauty."
— Chris Nick, 42-year music teacher in Pequot Lakes
She loves thinking creatively of ways to teach the concepts students need to learn.
“The opportunity to be creative and have kids making music - I can’t get enough of the sounds of kids’ voices singing,” Nick said.
She also enjoys learning.
“Instead of teaching, I really feel like I’m here learning,” she said, noting music class is so much more than singing songs and playing instruments. It includes learning about different cultures, people of different time periods and the history of songs.
And she just loves music.
“I like the way the variety of music can be used and mostly how it can enhance your emotions. It can make you laugh, cry, dance, see beauty,” Nick said.
Music has always been a part of Nick’s life, and she knew as a junior high student she wanted a career in music.
“I was always involved in musical activities in middle school, high school, church, singing groups and things,” she said, noting she played flute, piano and organ and sang.
"I have not met a more humble human being when it comes to those little kids nor a more passionate one."
— Sarah Nick, talking about her mother, Chris Nick
Her junior high music teacher became a family friend and they remain good friends.
“She was always so happy,” Nick said. “ So I think somewhere in my mind I just wanted to live the life she was living.”
She attended Concordia College in Moorhead to major in music, singing with the Concordia Choir her sophomore year. She married her high school sweetheart from Princeton, Bruce, that year. After she graduated from college, the couple moved to Owatonna where Nick taught elementary school music for two and a half years before coming to Pequot Lakes School.
“Our hearts were in the north country,” she said, noting her husband’s family had a cabin on Cross Lake. “Our life goal was to live up in this area.”
In 1979, she joined Pequot Lakes Elementary School as the music teacher.
Nick saw many changes over those years, including growing class sizes and, of course, Eagle View Elementary School being built.
“Coming here was like a life-changing experience because it was bigger and quieter,” she said.
When she was in her 50s, Nick completed her Master's in Education Leadership at Southwest Minnesota State University and enjoyed the monthly gatherings to learn with other teachers.
“Throughout my teaching career I have had so many great professional learning opportunities. It has been so interesting to see the professional growth topics change over the years. Things like brain research, mental health, differentiated instruction, diversity awareness and many other areas have been an important part of the school world and were not even mentioned when I first started in the late ‘70s,” she said. “The Pequot Lakes School District has been super supportive of teacher growth and learning, and I have always felt proud to tell people where I teach and live.”
The Nicks have two daughters - Laura and Sarah - who graduated from Pequot Lakes High School. Sarah Nick shared in an email how proud she is of her mom’s accomplishments, especially in her last year.
"As COVID has put a little damper on the past year, she went over the top on challenging herself to learn technology and how to go remote, plus not being able to be in person with kids in general, which is what she loves most about her job. I have not met a more humble human being when it comes to those little kids nor a more passionate one,” Sarah wrote.
“We couldn't be more happy for her,” she said, “but I know leaving her role as ‘Mrs. Nick’ will be awfully hard and, honestly, the end of an era for many that have walked through the halls and learned in her classroom."
Eagle View Principal Melissa Hesch called Nick the matriarch at Eagle View, saying Nick fostered the love of music in so many students while amazing their families and the community with their talent.
“So many lives have been touched through your passion for music. The children you have cared for and the colleagues you have collaborated with will truly never be the same,” Hesch said of Nick.
The Nicks live on a lake in Ideal Corners where Nick enjoys swimming, walking, biking and working out. Regarding her next ventures, Nick said:
“I truly am waiting for God to push me in the next direction. God opens doors. I believe we are born with gifts. That’s why doing this was meant to be.”
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.