John L. Nickels

By on June 27, 2013
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John L. Nickels, 82, of Maple Park, passed away peacefully at his home, surrounded by the love and prayers of his family, in the early morning hours of Monday, June 24, 2013.

A humble, hard-working man who was no stranger to chores on the farm or the bench of the Illinois Supreme Court, John was an “every man,” friend to all walks and every station in life. He will be missed by many and never forgotten.

John was born on Jan. 16, 1931, in Aurora, the son of Philip and Gertrude (Rausch) Nickels.

John grew up in Sugar Grove and spent his early educational years in a one-room school house with 14 other students. He eventually attended and graduated from Marmion Military Academy.

John continued his education at Northern Illinois University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business, and Northwestern University, where he studied trust administration. He then went on to DePaul University, where he received his Degree of Juris Doctorate before graduating from the National Judicial College.

John entered the United States Army in 1954. He supported his brothers in arms overseas through work in aircraft maintenance, and also trained for work in control towers while being stationed in both Texas and Louisiana. He was honorably discharged in 1956.

It wasn’t hardly a year later that his soul was made whole when he married Merita Smith on June 22, 1957, at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Batavia.

They began their new life in DeKalb while he attended NIU, but moved to Chicago during his law school years. Batavia was home during the early years while establishing his practice, but he settled in Maple Park. A man is only as great as the woman by his side, and there was no woman greater than Merita. Each step of the way, she made each house a home, filling it with love, laughter, memories and a growing family that would include eight children.

John was a man who never stopped learning. His iron-clad work ethic was forged on the farm, tending both his fields and livestock. He always strove to be the best no matter his station in life, and adapted those bedrock values to catapult from a trial lawyer to senior partner in his own firm, where he practiced in DeKalb, Kane and Kendall counties. He didn’t stop there however. John rose to the challenge of becoming a Circuit Court judge in 1982, an Appellate Court judge in 1990, eventually retiring as a justice on the Illinois Supreme Court.

John was a member of the Illinois State, Kane County and DeKalb County Bar Associations, the Kane and DeKalb Farm Bureau, International Association of Lions Clubs, Loyal Order of Moose, as well as the American Legion. He not only served his community on the bench, John also gave of his time to the Waubonsee College Board of Trustees, Kane County Zoning Board of Appeals, Kane County Regional Planning Commission, and was a city attorney. He was on the Advisory Board for Sheltered Workshop, Advisory Council for Kaneland School District 302, and past president of the PTA. John was also on the Kane County Bank and Trust Company Board of Directors, and was a parish lector and faithful member of St. Gall Catholic Church, where he was also past president of the Men’s Club.

In later years, he was also a member of the Luxembourg American Cultural Society and supported the Rafiki Foundation, an organization established for the education and scholarships for orphans and abandoned children in Tanzania and Marmion Abbeys Mission School of San Jose, Guatemala.

Through all his accomplishments and accolades, John was forever a farmer at heart. His roots ran deep into the hills and valleys of the countryside, and he was never happier than when he was surrounded by his loving family.

He is survived by his loving wife, Merita; seven children, Mary (James) Himic of Kaneohe, Hawaii, Jacqueline (David) Beane of Big Rock, Margaret (Kenneth) Mangers of Maple Park, Lisa (Joseph) Edmeier of Hinckley, Philip (Sara) Nickels of Moshe, Tanzania, Africa, Ruth Anne (Jean-Baptiste) Philippot of Saint Arnoult-En-Yvelines, France, and Gertrude (Peter) Filipos of Maple Park; 23 grandchildren; one great-grandson; two sisters, Jean Morris of Couderay, Wis., and Phyllis Nickels of St. Paul, Minn.; numerous nieces, nephews, cousins and a countryside of friends.

He was preceded in death by his infant daughter, Christine; his parents, Philip and Gertrude Schneider-Nickels; four siblings, Paul (Dorothy) Schneider, Catherine Schneider, Fr. Robert Schneider and Gerald (Mary) Nickels; and a brother-in-law, Ralph Morris.

Visitation will take place Friday, June 28, from 2 to 8 p.m., with a wake service to begin at 7:30 p.m., at St. Gall Catholic Church, located at the corner of Route 47 and Shannon Street in Elburn. Parking and entrance are available behind the church, off of Gates and Pierce streets. A Mass to celebrate his faith will take place Saturday, June 29, at 11 a.m., also at the church. Visitation will take place from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Fr. Tim Seigel, pastor of the church, will officiate. Interment will follow at St. Gall Cemetery, Route 47 in Elburn.

In lieu of flowers, a memorial has been established in John’s name to benefit his favorite charities. They include The Rafiki Foundation, an organization established for the education and scholarships of orphans and abandoned children in Tanzania, Africa, and Marmion Abbey’s Mission School of San Jose, Guatemala, a preparatory school for young men. Checks may be made to the “John Nickels Memorial” and mailed in care of P.O. Box 66, Elburn, 60119. Tributes may also be forwarded to the same address or on the web at, where you can find John’s full-life story.