The life and contributions of John Near, 31-year veteran teacher and coach, were celebrated with tears and laughter by a crowd of nearly 500 on Oct. 10 in Nichols Hall on the Saratoga campus.
The moving tribute brought Near’s family, friends, fellow teachers, alumni, students and parents together to share anecdotes, reminisce, and, ultimately, celebrate a life well-lived and the impact Near had on all those around him.
From a stage featuring Near’s classroom and coaching memorabilia, including his roll top desk and sports jerseys, Head of School Chris Nikoloff spoke movingly of Near’s contribution to Harker’s development over the past three decades; Diana Nichols, former head of school and current Harker trustee and consultant, told how Near grew with the school, ever improving his teaching methods to challenge his students, and how he contributed immeasurably to the development of the school – and thus thousands of students – in many areas, from the classroom to faculty meetings to basketball teams.
Three alumnae, Jessica Liu ’04; VyVy Trinh ’07 and Casey Near ’06, Near’s daughter and a senior at Scripps College, read excerpts from Near’s legendary baccalaureate speeches, relaying philosophies he shared with graduates. Steve Tedesco, a lifelong friend, took the stage to talk about Near’s life prior to and outside of Harker, and was joined by two other friends he’d had since elementary school, Craig Pettengill and Mark DiFiore.
The audience was treated to a photo slide show set to music (“Secret of Life” and “Shower the People,” both by James Taylor and favorites of Near’s), spanning his life and showing the very human side of this most respected educator and mentor. The slide show illustrated his many roles: teacher; coach; husband of Pam Dickinson, director of Harker’s Office of Communication; father; son; brother; and friend.
Jim Near, John’s father, wrapped up the formal program. Over the years, John had repeatedly said how his father was the only man he respected more than former head of school Howard Nichols, who passed away in December 2008. His dad’s strength of character, passed from father to son, was apparent as he talked about his son growing up, in maturity, ill and in his final weeks, and how his son had come to accept the inevitable with the same strength he demonstrated throughout his life. His parents have established the John Near Excellence in History Education Endowment Fund in his honor.
Microphones were opened up and teachers, alumni, students, parents and friends shared their special John Near memories and moments. Many involved the famous “Mr. Near look,” and each told how behind the look they found a caring, passionate teacher. An alumnus, inspired to become a history teacher, told how he also adopted Near’s approach to a wayward student, “We can do this the hard way, or my way”; a phrase as effective in his own classroom as it had been when he was on the receiving end in Near’s classroom many years ago.
Refreshments were served in front of Nichols Hall afterward, and guests mingled and reconnected, just as Near had requested. His favorite snack foods were served, such as popcorn, apples and brownies, which he was known to bake each week for his advisory group.
The printed program included some of Near’s favorite quotes, and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s especially captured the day:
“What is success? To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty; To find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden path, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. That is to have succeeded.”
From the dozens of anecdotes and memories – whether they were courtside, in the classroom or with friends and families – it was clear that Near’s life and impact is a legacy that will continue to inspire his thousands of students, scores of peers and friends, and his own loving family.
At Near’s request, donations can be made to any one of the following: The John Near Excellence in History Education Endowment Fund (Harker School Advancement Office; 3800 Blackford Ave; SJ 95117; checks to The Harker School, memo line “John Near Endowment Fund”); Hospice of the Valley; CaringBridge; Silicon Valley Wellness Center. To order a DVD of the memorial, email email@example.com.