Glendale - James Reiels played a formative role in Nicolet's growth during his 31 years as teacher, principal and superintendent. He passed away on Oct. 23.
Nicolet was established in 1955, and Reiels joined the school four years later as an administrative assistant. He taught English and Latin and oversaw the school's discipline program before becoming principal in 1961. After 12 years as principal, he was promoted to superintendent in 1973, replacing the district's first superintendent, Nicholas Cupery. Reiels served as superintendent for 17 years, retiring in 1990.
Cupery instilled in Reiels the importance of establishing Nicolet as one of the nation's top high schools - a goal that Reiels took seriously throughout the remainder of his career.
Reiels watched Nicolet grow tremendously during his 31 years with the district. During his time as principal, Nicolet built two phases of the F Wing, which is now home to science, math and social studies classes. Nicolet also added a gym during that time. Later on in his career, in 1989, Reiels oversaw a building-wide renovation that also added on to the cafeteria and built a new pool.
Reiels was also an early advocate for a racial integration program that would eventually become the Chapter 220 program. Nicolet would become one of the first schools to participate in the program.
John Reiels, one of James Reiels' three sons, said his father was focused on "educating the whole child" by expanding fine arts offerings and exposing students to different cultures through travel programs. In 1966, Reiels led a group of high school students on a six-week tour of Europe.
Reiels was also remembered as a Renaissance man. He enjoyed water color painting, reading about history and singing with the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus. His interest in the arts contributed to Nicolet forming one of the best-regarded theater programs in the area.
"The academic areas were core, but building the rest of the person during their four years at Nicolet was very important to him," John Reiels said.
Nicolet was an integral part of the Reiels family's life. When James Reiels was a teacher, he met Jean Costello, whom he married in 1960 and spent 56 years with. The Reiels raised their three sons in Glendale, because they thought it was important to be a part of the community.
Two of their three sons now work at Nicolet. John is the director of technology, and Brian is the facilities director. Brian was hired after his father's retirement, but John's hiring in 1987 was complicated by his father's sense of integrity.
Despite needing a new technology education teacher, James Reiels was concerned about the perception of nepotism or favoritism, so not only did he discourage his son John from applying to the district, he also told the school board president not to consider his son's application. Because there were only a few dozen graduates in the state with a technology education degree, the board ultimately chose to override Reiels' wishes and hire his son John.
Having watched his father as a student and as a supervisor, John Reiels noticed how his father took time to get to know people and establish relationships within the community.
"He walked the fine line between having professional relationships with teachers, faculty and the community, but also making sure we were moving forward with the students' and the community's best interest in mind," John Reiels said.
Nicolet School Board member Marilyn Franklin remembers working with James Reiels during her first year on the school board. She said she remembers him being humble, scholarly and a gentleman.
"His contribution to education not only benefited the students at Nicolet but also the entire North Shore community," Franklin said. "Under his leadership, Nicolet became a lighthouse school. He created a legacy of excellence that attracted people to the community."
After retiring in 1990, James and Jean Reiels retired about 280 miles north to Watersmeet, Michigan, where he was a member of the Watersmeet School Board, the Northwoods Singers, the Land O' Lakes Fish and Game Club, Headwaters Art League, Ottawa Interpretive Association and the Moon Lake Riparian Association.
Funeral services were held on Oct. 29 at Krause Funeral Home and on Oct. 31 in Watersmeet. In lieu of flowers, memorials are appreciated to Northwoods Singers, P.O. Box 1054, Land O' Lakes, WI 54540.