PROFILE OF A MUSEUM
Jess Nichols was born in Armona, California, a small farming community in the central San Joaquin Valley. He graduated from Hanford High School June 8, 1950; however, seventeen days later, the Korean War erupted, changing plans for many young men. Jess, through it all, was able to complete one year of college before enlisting in the Air Force. Jess was sworn in July 4, 1951 at the Fresno County Fairgrounds with a group of 500 men from the San Joaquin Valley, which runs from Sacramento to Bakersfield. Recruiters were encouraging enlistees to have a friend sign up with them at the same time. After swearing in, his group boarded a C-46 for the trip to Lackland AFB for basic training. Jess was then shipped to Mitchell AFB on Long Island, New York and was assigned to the 2500th Air Base Group. There he began training as a Clerk/Typist AFSC, which he completed March of 1952 and was assigned to the Engineering Maintance Squadron. There Jess met three individuals whose influence, in a great number of ways, effected his Air Force Service and his life. Those individuals were Senior M/Sgts. Sutliff, McCabe, and Gogoj, who were aircraft maintenance inspectors and responsible for making sure all aircraft were airworthy. Each of them encouraged him to continue working for an education, both in college and Air Force Technical Schools. Jess considered it a special privilege to have worked for M/Sgt. John J. Gogoj, who was awarded the DSC for his actions as an Engineer Gunner on a Martin B-26 during the Battle of Midway Island June 4, 1942. In the spring of 1952 Jess applied for Photo Mapping training at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Subsequently, he was assigned TDY to attend the school in the summer of 1952. Before leaving to attend this school, he applied for the Air Force OCS Program. Upon completing the Photo Mapping course, Jess returned to Mitchell AFB for a short time and wound up at Wolters AFB in Mineral Wells, Texas in October of 1952 and assigned as a draftsman to the Headquarters Squadron Section Aviation Engineer Force. In April of 1953 he was accepted to OCS in Class 53-D and again reported to Lackland AFB June 6, 1953. Six months and a great deal of sweat later, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on December 11, 1953. After OCS, Jess went to Lowry AFB in Denver, Colorado for the Still Photo Officer’s Course and then assigned to McChord AFB in Tacoma, Washington as the Base Photo Officer. Jess handled photographs in just about every conceivable point of interest to the Air Force, some of which were aerial photography. During Jess’ assignment at McChord, he met his future wife, Esther. They have been married fifty years and have a daughter, Janet Amanda Nelson and two granddaughters, Amanda and Anna Nelson.
Jess was discharged from active duty in December 1956 as a First Lieutenant, and was later promoted to Captain in the Air Force Reserve. He returned to California to complete his education, receiving a BA and MA from Fresno State University and began his teaching career the fall of 1962 at the Clovis Unified School District in Clovis, California. Jess went on to complete his doctorate at the University of San Francisco in 1982. He taught science at all grade levels as a science mentor and was coordinator of the program for the gifted and talented students. He retired from CUSD in June 1992 and that fall he started a new career teaching biological sciences at Fresno City College. Eleven years later he is still teaching at FCC and hopes to remain active in teaching as long as he is healthy and retains his interest in science.
Jess has written numerous papers relating to science education as well as the education of the gifted and talented. He has presented scientific papers in conferences held throughout the United States. Jess was selected to be a presenter at the Ninth and Tenth World Congress on Gifted and Talented Education at The Hague, Netherlands as well as the University of Toronto in Canada during 1991 and 1993 respectively.
Perhaps, the most personally rewarding aspect of Jess’ career is to encounter former students who have gone on to bigger and better things in various fields of academic endeavors. He is especially proud of those who chose to become instructors at many different levels of education.
For his devotion to and his continuing efforts in the field of education, Jess has twice been nominated by former students for the “Who’s Who Among American Teachers.” Since March, 1999 Jess has been a docent at the Legion of Valor of Museum, and enjoys his job very much, especially working with students.