(Written and shared at his funeral by his son Robb Nerdin)
James Thomas Nerdin was born on April 30, 1939 in Salt Lake City, UT to Garth and Violet Nerdin. He was named after his two grandfathers, James Nerdin and Thomas Gray. He passed away peacefully, in his sleep, on November 22, 2017. He was preceded in death by both his parents, his sister Nancy, and his grandson, Riley J. He is survived by his beloved wife, Connie, of nearly 54 years, his eight children – Eric (Kari), Julie (Doug), Laurie, Jeff (Michelle), Robb (Stacey), Matt (Karen), Keith (Carley), and Jamee (David), his sister Garthia (Niel), his brother Ray (Kathy), 32 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren.
As a young boy, he moved with his parents to the Puget Sound area of Washington State. Most of his childhood years were spent in Port Orchard, WA on the family farm. It was here that my dad learned the meaning of hard work. He spent his days helping to split firewood, tending to the garden, and taking care of the animals (they had cows, sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, pigs, and sometimes turkeys. Dad tells the story of the one time that one of the turkeys broke a leg right around Thanksgiving time, so they butchered it and cooked it up for Thanksgiving dinner. They had company over for dinner and everyone was commenting on how good the turkey was…until Dad asked Grandpa “Is this the turkey that got sick and died?” Everyone turned green until it was explained that it was just a broken leg. Dad was very popular with the company for a while.
After he graduated from South Kitsap High School, he attended the University of Washington and studied mathematics. During his years at the university, he took a two year break to serve a full-time mission in Helsinki, Finland from 1960-1962. He brought back a pair of cross country skis from Finland and I remember him letting us boys use them. The problem was that there was only one set of skis and five boys. After he returned from Finland, he earned his BS in mathematics.
Dad’s family was very close friends with the Dewey family in Port Orchard (it is very special to see 6 of the Dewey siblings here today). The oldest of the Dewey children was a beautiful young woman named Connie. When Jim was 18 and Connie was 13, Dad didn’t have anyone else to take for a date, so he asked her to go to the Green & Gold Ball. They danced all night long. Connie was in love and could hardly wait to go to church the next Sunday to sit with Jim at church. When she got to church Jim was sitting with Judy Kemp and didn’t pay any attention to her. She was devastated and was bawling her eyes out after church. Connie’s mom comforted her and said, “Don’t worry, honey, let him have his girlfriends. You’ll marry him in the end.” After the 1963 football season, the University of Washington Huskies had earned a trip to the Rose Bowl and Jim and Connie were dating at the time and thought that it would be fun to go to the game in Pasadena. The day they went to buy tickets, they didn’t have any student tickets left. They only had tickets for married couples. While Connie waited in the car, Jim bought two tickets. Connie looked at him kinda funny and so right in front of the Butterworth Mortuary sign, on the freeway, Jim turned to her and said, “Oh, by the way, will you marry me?” She said yes, and Jim and Connie were married on December 28, 1963. They raised their eight children together in Washington, North Dakota, Utah, and Oregon.
After earning his teaching certificate from Brigham Young University in 1969, Jim and Connie (and their four oldest children) moved to Crane, Oregon in 1971 where Jim began his career as an educator. He taught math and chemistry there and was also the vice-principal at Crane Union High School. Jim and Connie’s four youngest children were born during their seven years in Crane. This is where he also began his coaching career as he was the very first girls’ basketball coach. He told us of going to coaching seminars taught by John Wooden and Bobby Knight. Also during this time, he attended summer school at the University of Oregon and earned his master’s degree in Computer Science. From that time forward, he was a very loyal fan of the Oregon Ducks. This may be the only aspect of my relationship with my father that was ever strained, as I received my degree from Oregon State University. I remember having many heated conversations regarding Beavers and Ducks. In his final months, I bought him a fleece Oregon Ducks blanket in an attempt to bring in a little color into his otherwise sterile hospital rooms. I’m happy to say that he has that blanket tucked around him in his casket. This way, I am burying any evidence that I ever purchased anything affiliated with the Oregon Ducks. Jim began his tenure as a full-time school administrator as the principal of Wheeler Country High School. After a year in Fossil, OR, Jim accepted a position as principal of Sherman County High School in Moro, OR. He continued coaching basketball here, and even coached his son Eric’s JV team. From there, he moved the family to Helix, OR where he was the superintendent of the Helix School District. He also reached the pinnacle of his coaching career when he coached the 1988 girls’ basketball team to the State Championship game. Although they lost the game, it was an accomplishment that meant a lot to him and to the members of that team (some of which are in attendance today). I remember when I was in 8th grade, he coached Matt’s and my junior high team. One game in Stanfield, I missed almost every shot I took, usually coming up short and hitting the bottom of the rim. As the team went into the locker room, Dad pulled me aside and asked, “You been playing on the dunk hoop again, haven’t you?” When I admitted that I had been playing on the 8 foot hoop, he said, “Well, no halftime break for you. You stay out here and shoot layups during all of halftime. When we come back out, you better be making a lot more shots!” I did as I was told, corrected the problem, and made almost all of my shots in the second half. His methods weren’t always traditional, but they usually produced the results he was looking for.
I didn’t ever have a class with Dad when he was a full-time teacher, but once when he couldn’t find a substitute math teacher, he filled in. Jeff and I were in the same class, and Jeff didn’t want to treat the substitute teacher any different than our regular teacher, so he leaned his chair up against the back wall and promptly fell asleep. This did not sit well with Dad, and when he had had enough, he took a piece of chalk and threw it at Jeff. Dad’s aim was not true and the piece of chalk shattered on the wall next to Jeff’s head. Jeff just barely woke up and gave Dad this, “What?!” look. Dad pointed to the door and said, “Get out! Go home! I’m kicking you out of school!!” Jeff walked the few blocks home and Mom asked him why he was home. He told her Dad had kicked him out of school. Mom told him, “You go back to school and you tell your father that you are NOT kicked out of school!” Jeff made it back to school even before that class period was over, so he strolled back into class. Dad was incredulous and asked, “What are you doing here?” Jeff said Mom told him to tell that he wasn’t kicked out of school. Needless to say, Jeff stayed at school for the rest of the day. After 21 years in small Eastern Oregon towns, Dad accepted a superintendent positions in the Willamette Valley in Harrisburg and Sheridan. He retired from public education in 2001. Apart from his service in public education, Jim was a dedicated member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After retirement, he served full-time missions with his wife in Ibaden, Nigeria, Tucson, Arizona, and Palmyra, New York. Most recently, he served as a member of the High Priest Group Leadership in the Walla Walla Second Ward of the LDS Church.
Jim will be remembered as a master teacher. From youth to adults, Jim loved to share the knowledge he gained through study, work, and by simply having a willingness and desire to try new things. It’s impossible to list all the ways he taught or the number of lives he influenced through his teaching. He was a math teacher at school, but his teachings extended far beyond math to things such as wood-working and furniture building, basketball, camping, tennis, construction, yard work, chopping wood, public speaking, fulfilling priesthood duties, how to make dinner from random leftovers, and above all, hard work.
Jim had a witty sense of humor and was a big jokester, even through his last months struggling with his health. He always seemed to have a funny song or silly saying for almost anything, like:
• Little Bunny Foo Foo
• Something about “Homemade bread takes longer to toast:
• John Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt
• Pretty much anything was better than poke in the eye with a sharp stick
• If you ever lost anything, (say a shoe) it could be found in the “Shoe Locker under ‘S’”
• Sticking your head in a little skunk’s hole
• Good enough for government work
• There are three kinds of people in the world. Those who can count, and those who can’t.
• Just to name a few…
Dad’s legacy lives on through his kids, grandkids, and now great-grandkids. We love you Dad, we miss you, and look forward to the day when we can be together again. To quote one of you favorite movies, The Princess Bride, “Have fun storming the castle!”