NO. 17727 • 12 Feb 1927 - 20 Apr 2005
Died in Naples, FL. Ashes scattered in the Gulf of Mexico.
Phillip Elmer "Pete" Nicolay's home town was St. Louis, and he was a loyal Cardinal fan and member of Branch Rickey's original Knothole Gang. As a boy, he loved to go fishing and hunting with his father hobbies that became lifelong interests.
Pete attended Western Military Academy in Alton, IL, and when he applied to West Point, he was a third alternate for a congressional appointment. The first man resigned his appointment, however, and the second failed the physical, so Pete entered the Academy in 1945. A Plebe football injury held him back a year, so he did not graduate until 1950.
Those who remember Pete from his West Point years recall a fine bridge player, an avid skeet enthusiast, and a member of the Fishing Club and Skeet Club. He could also be found on the ski slopes during snowy New York winters and became a competent skier.
Upon graduation, Pete chose the Infantry and trained as a paratrooper at Ft. Benning, GA, before serving in the 11th Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, KY. There, in 1950, he married Marion Barnes an 'Army brat.' In early 1952, Pete was assigned to Korea with the 3rd Division, transferring to the 612th Field Artillery Battalion on Okinawa in 1953, where Marion joined him for a year.
In early 1954, Pete resigned from the Army as a first lieutenant and became an aerospace engineer with Rocketdyne at Edwards Air Force Base in California, working there for six years. He eventually became chief of all Rocketdyne operations on the base. During Pete and Marion’s time there, they adopted two children, Julie and Phil.
Pete then took a year off from engineering to own and operate a small casino in Carson City, NV a heady experience. He and Marion greatly enjoyed the beauty of the scenic area, the friendly people, and the best climate they had encountered during their nomadic life together.
In 1961, Pete returned to his first profession, accepting a position with Pratt and Whitney in West Palm Beach, FL, as a supervisor in their rocket testing program. He later transferred to Connecticut, working with aircraft engines and fuel cells.
Raising their children was a challenge and a delight for Pete and Marion, and he enjoyed watching them grow and mature. He encouraged his talented daughter Julie in her musical ambitions and helped Phil by teaching him to fish and shoot. He also coached and managed Phil's Little League teams. Julie now lives in Tucson, AZ, and Phil divides his time between New England and the Florida Keys, captaining boats for a New York businessman.
While living in Connecticut, Marion pursued a master's degree to teach art in a Connecticut high school, and Pete encouraged her in her efforts. During those years in New England, Pete fullfilled a lifelong dream of becoming a private pilot. Soon Marion also took up flying, and they purchased a small plane of their own. They ultimately owned five such planes at different times and established an aviation mail order business that they ran out of their home for several years. Pete was proud that they took their last plane, a Cessna Skyhawk, into 49 states (they never made it to Hawaii). They also flew to Canada, Mexico, and the Bahamas in that plane, nicknamed the Bluejay.
In 1982, Pete retired and spent a short time working in real estate. In 1988, he and Marion moved to Marco Island, FL, where Pete thought he'd gone to heaven. He was a happy boat owner, loved the fishing in Southwest Florida, and played golf and bridge. Pete also served on the board of the Marco Men’s Club for several years and was a member of St. Marks Episcopal Church on the island. During their retirement, he and Marion traveled to Europe several tunes and spent many happy days cruising on commercial liners in the Caribbean. Some of these trips were with small groups and others were just as a couple. In 2000, they celebrated their 50th anniversary by flying to Vancouver and boarding a liner to sail down the West Coast, through the Panama Canal, and finally to Puerto Rico a memorable trip.
After moving to Florida, Marion began writing a column on cooking for the local paper Occasionally, Pete also wrote a column. He was a superb and innovative cook and assumed at least half of the kitchen duties later in life. For a year, he wrote a humorous column for the same paper, "My Nickel’s Worth," in which he poked gentle fun at local politicians, tourists, and other tempting targets.
When computers entered his life, he determined to master them and in time acquired enough expertise to untangle Marion's frequent computer problems and help friends with their own computers. He never lost his love of bridge and history and acquired a large library of historical books and atlases along the way.
Pete once said to his children, "Don’t miss me too much when I'm gone I've had a good run for my money and done almost everything I ever wanted to do." It is a fitting tribute to a much loved man who enjoyed life to the limit and made the same thing possible for the people around him.
- His wife