A Year Later: Remembering Rick Nees


Provided by Rick Nees' Facebook

Rick Nees playing guitar with the usual smile on his face.

As I discussed the idea of this article with my adviser, he not only loved it, but wanted to help me write it. He always said his biggest regret was not getting up with Rick Nees on the stage and singing together, and I think this piece is his way of apologizing. Written below is our words woven together, telling the story of a teacher that has left a mark in countless lives.

I wasn’t ready yet. I stood outside your room the other day. I could not walk inside. I wasn’t ready. The hallway seemed silent and yet was filled with students. I waited for one of them to say “Let’s see if Nees has any cookies” or “He is my favorite teacher.” It didn’t happen. After a long pause, I moved forward ready to meet the day. Filled with emotion that told me the best way to honor my colleague was to help the kids.

Steven Tolly’s words resonated with me and almost every student at Kennedy as we walked past the classroom upstairs on the right side of the IMC, making our way to our classes. Hidden behind the disguise of whiteboards and math problems were memories that would never be lost.  Memories of beloved teacher Rick Nees.

There is no relief from this feeling I have felt since you were taken from us. The person responsible was arrested, tried and convicted. I thought that would help, it did not. I still miss my fellow teacher, I still miss my friend. There is no relief. 

Teachers speak of him in class often. Speak of his old, kind soul. Speak of memories of the fond moments shared with a friend. The pain is still there a year later, seen in Tolly’s eyes, in the sadness in his voice as he tells stories of time spent together. Tells us his biggest regret of not getting up on the stage with Nees at One Night and performing with him when he had the chance.

Last Friday students and staff wore Hawaiian shirts to honor your memory. There was no relief, but there was hope. Students asked questions. They were curious.  As I explained to them why I wear a Hawaiian shirt every Thursday it made me smile. It showed a side of me students do not always get to see. Students look at teachers as invincible, but we are all flawed, but Nees always had a smile or lyric to brighten our days. At times he was what none of us knew we needed. To put it simply he was Nees. 

The winter pep assembly after the accident was painful. Students arrived at school, and rather than the traditional holiday getup, we wore Hawaiian flowers inked onto our shirts. The tradition continued in his absence. Incoming classes would never get the chance to know of his cookies, or how he was able to make math enjoyable for so many of us. Weeks turned into months, months turned into a year, and the pain eased, but there was still no relief.  

I stepped out of my comfort zone earlier this year and started wearing a Hawaiian shirt every Thursday. Working up the courage to be different was impossible. Why would I want to step out of my comfort zone? There would be no relief. 

In some ways, it felt wrong to continue wearing the flowered shirts at a time of sadness. In other ways, it felt right. Nees would have wanted to continue spreading happiness in his absence. He would want us to remember him in joy, learning from the lessons he taught that extended farther than mathematics. 

A shirt cannot heal a hole in our community. It cannot replace our loss. I knew I had to be right. A shirt does not make me feel any closer to you, but telling your story does. There is still no relief, but there is joy. The joy comes from the kids. I should have known you would point me towards the students. Live life, help kids and take advantage of every minute. Why wait to put on a Hawaiian shirt? Share Nees’ story every day, do not wait for a reason to spread joy. When all else goes wrong kick off your shoes and remember to live life to its fullest. 

Nees made a difference, from his guitar to his shirts. His laughter. His cookies. His words. He mattered. He told us as students to live in the moment, because you never know what day could be your last. He was right. He was the one who students went to when they needed help, and the friend who was an inspiration to his colleagues. He was the relief.