Fred Nicholas '47

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Even the interview for this article back in 2004 carried a hint of drama as we sat in his office in State College on a day when Hurricane Isabel was roaring north toward us from Virginia. Nicholas had just made it in on a flight from his other home in Tiburon, California the night before in order to attend his 60th high school reunion.

Many of you in Alpha Chi Sigma will remember the name, Fred Nicholas. He was instrumental in the effort to revive the Nu Chapter at Penn State. When asked about the distinguished title of being one of the Nine Old Men, he said, "Well, I can tell you that when I was a student here, I certainly never expected to be one!" It seemed prudent at the time not to ask for too much clarification on that. What is clear is that Nicholas had real heart for the organization. "The people you live with share many of the same classes and can help you with study," he said. "When I lived there, faculty would come to the house to lead study sessions. We need to be doing more of that sort of thing to let the students know what a fine opportunity Alpha Chi Sigma is! You have a great combination of professional fraternity and social house here."

Nicholas belonged to several professional organizations, for physics, architecture and engineering. "But I always seem to run into Alpha Chi Sigma members. I was recently on a jury in the San Francisco Bay area. We discovered that three of us were ACS members in that one jury! I often meet members wherever you find a concentration of technical professionals."

Fred Nicholas has always been one to make the most of opportunity. After serving as a marine in World War II, he completed bachelor's and master's degrees at Penn State. For the next few years, he worked for first, Bethlehem Steel and then E. I. DuPont and Honeywell before coming back to State College as an associate professor. But his feet and mind were restless. He began doing engineering consulting while teaching. After five years of trying to be in too many places at the same time, he decided to launch his own business. By then he had a team of engineers he could put to work in offices in Scranton and Harrisburg as well as State College.

The original business has expanded to include architectural consulting and development, Fred's strongest interest today. "If you enjoy your job, you'll never work a day in your life," he reflected. A walk around State College passes familiar landmarks where Nicholas has left marks of just how much enjoyment he has had. Motels, apartment buildings, the new Eagle Lodge for the Boy Scouts at Seven Mountains, and the Creekside Shopping Plaza, soon to open on South Atherton, are just a few local examples.

It was during one of these projects that Nicholas observed a strange flag hanging from a window at his old chapter house and decided to investigate. He strolled over one day and asked the student who came to the door if he could just look around the house where he had lived back in the 1940s. "Sorry, you're not a brother, so you can't come in," was the answer. That just did not sit too well with Fred Nicholas. A little investigation revealed that the current residents were not very responsible tenants. After considering his proposal, the alumni voted to authorize the board to turn ownership of the house over to Nicholas so that he could refurbish and bring up to code the grand old house. Now with much effort and contribution from many Nu Chapter members, Alpha Chi Sigma is back home and growing again in State College.

The more usual kind of homecoming at Penn State some 27 years ago was a pivotal scene in the Fred Nicholas story. Divorced at the time, he met another alumnus who was to become his wife. Joyce, a lovely woman with strong Italian roots and children of her own, has given new dimension to his life in many ways. Their marriage created a unique family clan that brought together his four and her three children, all close in age. When you count the grandchildren now, it was 26 of them in Maui to celebrate his 75th birthday in grand style recently.

Did we say 75? Just the time to begin a whole new adventure! Fred and Joyce are about to enter the film business with an exciting project that tells a romantic story based on Joyce's family history. And in the last few months, Joyce and Fred braved the North Pole as part of a group of life explorers from 17 different countries who were guests on a working Russian icebreaker as it crushed its way through the polar ice.

As Hurricane Isabel blew through State College, leaving only a few branches and leaves as evidence of her power, one thing became very evident: We, as Nu Chapter alums, will never know the entire impact of the generosity and commitment of a brother like Fred Nichols. His memory of the traditions and his caring, alone, will be instrumental in carrying the chapter forward for many generations to come. Thank you, Fred, and may we see many alumni follow in your wake.