Rick Nees and his daughter, Nicole Nees, died tragically on Thanksgiving morning while running an errand in Fort Collins, Colo. As they sat at a traffic light, a reckless driver, having just committed other crimes, ran into their car, killing them both. If you knew Rick, you know he would be the first to show forgiveness.
Rick was born J. Richard Nees on April 12, 1963, in Buffalo, N.Y. to Louis Nees III and Karen Nees. Along with his older brother, Louis IV, and younger sister, Krista, Rick, and the neighborhood kids on Trailing Drive in Clarence, N.Y., they climbed trees, built forts, played endless games with balls, pucks, and rotten apples, and generally ran amok, creating mayhem day after day. When Rick's dad passed away in 1970, his paternal grandparents took special interest in the kids and brought them to the family cottage in Ontario every summer. Rick formed a strong bond with "Gramps and Grandma" and the Canadian wilderness, learning to fish, sail, canoe, whittle, chop wood and drive small boats.
Rick attended Clarence High School for two years, playing football and swimming on Clarence's stellar swim team. His family moved to Aurora, Colo., in 1979 where Rick graduated from Smoky Hill High School. After one year at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, where Rick first discovered the guitar and Buddhism, he decided to take a break from college. Unsure of what career path to follow, Rick stayed afloat by working different jobs and continuously improved his guitar playing.
In 1987, Rick married Julie Flynn and adopted her children, Nicole and Jack. Their daughter, Riki, was born in 1988. Eventually, their paths diverged and Julie moved with the kids to Iowa. Needing to be near his children, Rick relocated to Iowa soon after. Rick was an attentive father who was always there to listen and offer insights; his wisdom seeming to reach beyond his years. He encouraged his kids to be their most authentic selves, supporting them however they needed. He was especially engaged in their academic and artistic development and was remarkably skilled at showing empathy, patience and unconditional love.
Rick earned his math degree and teaching credential from the University of Northern Iowa in 1995. As a math teacher, Mr. Nees shared his love for life, learning, and music. He was dedicated to creating a classroom environment that was both educational and fun. He would play his guitar and sing for students, with an occasional harmonica accompaniment, sometimes changing the lyrics of familiar songs to teach mathematical concepts. His door was always open for students who needed him, whether or not they were on his classroom roster. Students knew Mr. Nees as compassionate, committed to education and supportive. He offered a listening ear, a shoulder to lean on and comfort food (including his favorite homemade chocolate chip cookies). Mr. Nees enjoyed the liveliness and energy of high school culture and took complete advantage of the extracurricular entertainment. He formed and sponsored the Guitar Club, attended speech, theatrical, musical and sporting events, and was invested in helping students raise money for meaningful
causes. The true beauty of his work was his dedication beyond the classroom. Mr. Nees inspired students to dream big and follow their passions. He cared about the things his students cared about: their hobbies and activities, their relationships with family members and friends, their struggles and successes, their whole world! Rick also strongly impacted his colleagues. Coworkers viewed him as a collaborative friend who added a unique and valuable perspective to the profession. Everyone Rick worked with felt the good vibes he brought with him to school each day.
During breaks from work, Rick was rarely home. His love for summers in Canada continued throughout his life. He delighted in his time at the rustic cabin with extended family and generations of friends, playing guitar, drinking beer, gazing at stars, and having conversations that wove through the years, always to be continued the following summer. He was especially happy to share this special paradise with his granddaughter, Jayden, who took instantly to the lifestyle, swimming all day, picking blueberries, catching frogs and playing a shake instrument or conga drum to accompany her "G-paw." During shorter breaks, Rick would visit his children and grandchildren, Jayden and Owen, who live in Colorado. Throughout his journeys, Rick was known as a loyal friend and family member who took the time to visit the people he loved, driving a few hundred miles out of the way, if only for an evening of catching up. He loved his mom, Karen, admired her for raising three children after their dad died, sought her advice regularly over the years, and called and visited her in California often.
Rick had a deep passion for music that intersected with his love for his family. His grandma bought him his first guitar in 1982 when he was in college. Rick kept meticulous care of this guitar, and until very recently, it is the only one he ever owned. He enjoyed the open mic format and performed (always without shoes) in many towns across the country as he visited friends and family. He hosted open mics in Colorado and Iowa at pubs, coffee shops and schools. Rick composed and recorded several original pieces. He played at weddings, birthday celebrations, and memorial services, often making up new lyrics to cover songs. It was his preferred way to give a toast or a roast -- whichever the occasion called for.
Rick had a goofy sense of humor, was quick to laugh, loved improv and playing games of all kinds, and took advantage of every chance to boogie. He was always eager to join in or help out whether it be to play golf at 6 a.m. (he wasn't a golfer), teach Sunday school (he was a Buddhist), or man the barbecue (he was a vegetarian). He had an ageless and timeless quality about him. Rick's friends range in age from 2 to 92. Truly accepting people for their individual gifts, he found everyone interesting and worth knowing. Rick was not a great fan of clocks and calendars, preferring to linger over "mud" (coffee) or a meal, discuss matters profound or trivial into the wee hours, or play music as long as the mood lasted. He gave this world more music, more laughter, more humanity, and more corny jokes. We are grateful for these gifts and will miss him dearly.
A scholarship fund has been created at Kennedy High School in Rick's name to honor graduating seniors over the next four years who embody his qualities. Donations to this fund can be made online at https://crcsf.com/about-us/donate-online/ . When donating on the Cedar Rapids Community School District Foundation donation page, please type "Rick Nees" in the "Tribute" section.
A Celebration of Life will be held on Feb. 9, 2019, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Dublin City Pub in Cedar Rapids, 415 First St. SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401. There will be an open mic option for those of you who wish to play a tune, sing a song, tell a story or recite a poem. Extended family and long-time McGregor Bay friends will gather in Ontario this July to remember Rick.