Close to 200 friends, family and colleagues gathered on the upper school campus on Oct. 6 to honor Diana Nichols, former head of school and board chair, who passed away on Sept. 2, 2018.
Speakers movingly spoke of the vision, passion and contributions – including the opening of the upper school in 1998 – that Mrs. Nichols poured into Harker to make it the school it is today. “As far as she was concerned there was no challenge that could not be met as long as one was prepared to work hard,” said Chip Zecher ’79, Harker’s current board chair. “She expected no less of others than she was prepared to give.” Huali Chai Stanek, board member and alumni parent, also spoke of Diana’s vision and the result of that resolve. “She was a leader who sought excellence, fostered excellence and insisted upon excellence in everyone around her, the product of which is Harker and the beneficiaries of which are the Harker students.”
Fittingly, the memorial was held in the newly opened Rothschild Performing Arts Center, which was her passion and the most recent of many improvements at Harker that Mrs. Nichols oversaw. A Harker student quartet played, and Chloe Chen, a junior, danced to “Wind Beneath My Wings,” an especially fitting choice since this song was Howard and Diana Nichols’ wedding song. A photo slide show shared memories of Mrs. Nichols’ long career, of her beloved family and friends, and of her many global adventures. Video clips of interviews with Diana and Howard were also shared. Additional speakers were: Marie Clifford, board member and Mrs. Nichols’ sister; Jennifer Gargano, assistant head of school for academic affairs; Anita Chetty, upper school science department chair; and Ashok Krishnamurthi, alumni parent.
“Diana accomplished what we should all hope for in our own lives: to have embraced everything about herself and to have lived a life not only of interest but full of meaning and impact,” said Brian Yager, head of school. Stanek poignantly captured the day’s sentiment in her remarks. “She will always be here, in the school she loved, on the campuses she acquired and built, in the buildings she worked to construct … Diana and Howard’s contributions will live on and remain embedded in the memory of Harker.”
Visitors were encouraged to attend the reception, lovingly called a Boston Tea Party in honor of Mrs. Nichols’ roots, and to share memories at a video station. Permanent plaques have been installed on the front of Nichols Hall on the upper school campus to honor the legacy of Howard and Diana Nichols.
March 25, 1942 – Sept. 2, 2018
Resident of Carmel
Educator, environmentalist, philanthropist and business leader Diana Nichols passed away Sept. 2, 2018 from pancreatic cancer. She was 76. Mrs. Nichols was the former head of school and board chair at The Harker School in San Jose, and one of the important figures in the school’s 125-year history.
Along with her husband, Howard Nichols, Diana Nichols was key to shaping Harker into the quintessential 21st-century school. Her own path developed her strong beliefs in the need for excellent education grounded in scholarly research and academic discipline. Born March 25, 1942 in New York, Mrs. Nichols grew up in the Boston area and started her teaching career in 1963 in her home state of Massachusetts.
She moved to California to teach biology at Crystal Springs School in Hillsborough, then joined Harker as a biology teacher in 1973. In the early 1980s, by which time she was serving as assistant principal, the visionary partnership of Howard and Diana Nichols was beginning to have an historic impact on the future of the school. At this time, Mrs. Nichols became an advocate for the emotional and mental well-being of the students and introduced the Harker Personal Development program, teaching Harker students techniques for stress reduction and relaxation.
Developed with the help of Dr. Kenneth Blaker at Santa Clara University– where Mrs. Nichols was finishing her master’s degree in marriage and family counseling – the program also emphasized goal-setting, communication skills and other important aspects of what she and Howard Nichols deemed the “whole child.”
Mrs. Nichols left her mark as an educator on all of Harker’s academic programs, developing the entire K-12 science curriculum and presiding over the development of curricula for every academic department. Her success in directing the creation and development of curricula for the upper school was noticed by The University of California, and in 2002 she was named to an advisory board that worked with other schools that were creating syllabi for UC submission.
A passionate believer in environmental preservation and sustainability, Mrs. Nichols was instrumental in starting and maintaining Harker’s recycling program and other environmental projects, such as organic gardens. In 1990, she was selected by Santa Clara County to coordinate Earth Day activities for 120 area schools. She later worked with Our City Forest, an organization devoted to local tree-planting efforts. Nichols Hall, the county’s first LEED-certified school facility, was so named in part to recognize these and many other efforts. Following her retirement, Mrs. Nichols remained active in her environmental work, spending several years as a docent at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and serving on the Point Lobos Foundation’s board of trustees.
Among her other notable accomplishments in the 1990s was the 1995 launch of Harker’s global education program, starting with yearly exchanges between Harker and Tamagawa Academy in Tokyo, which continue to this day. Since then, Harker has established ongoing relationships with schools in countries such as China, Australia, Switzerland and Costa Rica. She brought her devotion to environmental causes to this program as well founding the Our Trees Project to foster passion for sustainability between Harker and its sister schools.
Mrs. Nichols became Harker’s head of school in 1992, and she and school president Howard Nichols led Harker’s biggest expansion to date: the addition of a high school. The seeds for the upper school were planted in the 1980s when, in addition to the Nicholses’ recognition of a niche in Silicon Valley that needed filling, a survey of Harker parents revealed an interest in post-middle school education at Harker. Mrs. Nichols led a select group of Harker faculty and staff on a tour of the East Coast, visiting prestigious prep schools and learning how they could adapt those schools’ best attributes to Harker’s unique approach to top-flight education. Harker’s upper school, now recognized as one of the top private schools in the nation, was launched in the fall of 1998, with its first class graduating in 2002.
A career full of accomplishments led to many accolades, including three National Science Foundation Awards, recognition by the Peninsula Conservation Society for her work in environmental education, two nominations by the Women’s Fund of Santa Clara County for the Woman of Achievement Award, and a Clean Air Award from the American Lung Association for creating awareness of the need for cleaner air.
Diana and Howard Nichols retired to much fanfare in 2005, leaving behind the legacy of their tremendous passion for education and service. In December 2010, two years after Howard Nichols’ death, Diana Nichols became the chair of Harker’s board of trustees as the school began to execute its long-term development plans, which included the new Rothschild Performing Arts Center and athletic center, both completed in the past year. Mrs. Nichols was the key mover in this building project, working with contractors, drawing plans and keeping close involvement even as her illness progressed; she was passionate about completing this phase of her and Howard’s vision for what was their life’s work: the current and future excellence of The Harker School. She is survived by her sister, Marie Clifford of Arroyo Grande, her son, Gregory Appleton of Houston, stepdaughters Elizabeth de Oliveira of Portola Valley and Stephanie Norton of San Jose, and six grandchildren.