On the afternoon of Friday, January 11, 2008, the music drifting through the mountains near Calgary became silent. John Kurt Nikel, husband to Barbara; brother to George; father to Mark, Sabrina and Quin; stepfather to Cathy, Michael, Patrick, Beverley and Barbara; and grandfather to Ethan, Kennedy, Indiana, Kira, Alexandra, Ava, Nicholas, Claudia, Kurt, Katarina, Jack, Katie and Matthew, could not overcome complications following surgery and passed away in the hospital. With his wife and some of his family by his side, John was already skiing down a favourite run somewhere in the Rockies, stopping only to look to up to the peaks where he knew God was present.
John loved life with a passion. His optimism was legendary and infectious, and borne from a life story that beckons to be told. Born in a small farmhouse in Bielitz, Poland, loosing his father at the age of 14, John became the head of his family and was determined to care for and protect them which he did, without fail. With two suitcases, little money and his courage, John landed in Halifax in 1952 and quickly made his way to Manitoba. George and “Omi” soon followed and by 1963 the “Canadians” were “Albertans” where they remained. It took forty-six years until the three Nikels could journey back to their birthplace – memories were retrieved and tears were shed, but their choice long before to leave for Canada was never questioned.
Music provided John with a trade, and he in turn devoted himself to giving the gift of music back to the young. The list of music organizations he helped establish or worked with is long. Many will recall the Alberta International Band Festival, Musicfest Canada, The Tommy Banks Award and the Calgary Association of Piano Dealers. Those with longer memories would note John’s involvement in the community in Edmonton – Edmonton Jaycees, the Muk-Luk Mardi Gras Festival, and the Arts Advisory Committee with Grant MacEwan College. His family and friends will smile when they are reminded that at one time John was the president of Flin Flon Trout Festival and the Flin Flon Glee Club.
Somewhere in the waterways of northern Manitoba, John learned to paddle a canoe. Fifteen years later, celebrating the centennial of his adopted nation, the Chief Voyageur from Alberta led canoe teams from each province across from the Rocky Mountains to Montreal – along the way John stood as a proud Canadian on the front lawn of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa and shook the hand of a Prime Minister. Not bad for the young man from Flin Flon.
John’s legacy was his family. He and his wife Irma raised three children in Edmonton, never living too far from a ski hill. John honored education above all else, ensuring that his children would receive what was denied to him. Two lawyers and one “silicon valley” success story later, John’s hopes were realized and he was proud. In mid-life John fell in love with Barbara and with a piano playing on the shores of the Georgian Bay and surrounded by two families and wonderful friends, they married. John embraced his five new children and loved them as if his own. Travelling for John and Barbara was fun; they could be found walking on the beaches of Florida, sipping wine in a café in Vienna, or holding onto the rails of the ship as it left port in Italy.
John’s grandchildren became the spark in his eye and with immense pride he would recount to friends how many grandchildren he had (thirteen as of today). With reasonable accuracy, John could describe which sport they were in and what instrument they played. He had become an “Opa”, and he revelled in the joy this gave him. John skied with his grandkids until the moguls told him he had to slow down, and his knees later gave him no option to continue.
From celebrity movie stars to politicians, from friends at the dinner table to children around a bonfire, John was comfortable with all. Always sensing his audience, John was quite adept at explaining Canadian history, which he actually knew quite well, and without blinking he could weave a story that would entertain everyone.
In the end, John’s own story is one that impresses most.
A Celebration of John’s life will be held at McINNIS & HOLLOWAY’S, Park Memorial Chapel (5008 Elbow Drive S.W.) on Saturday, January 19, 2008 at 2:30 p.m. Forward condolences through www.mcinnisandholloway.com. To honour John’s work, he would like donations in lieu of flowers sent to the Alberta International Band Festival, P.O. Box 35017, Sarcee Outlet, Calgary, AB, T3E 3C0.
In living memory of John Nikel, a tree will be planted at Fish Creek Provincial Park by McINNIS & HOLLOWAY FUNERAL HOMES Park Memorial Chapel, 5008 ELBOW DRIVE S.W. Telephone: (403) 243-8200.Print This Obituary & Condolences