Remembering Nick Georgis

Nick Georgis — a very popular Staples physics teacher for over 30 years, with a passion for ham radio and Staples soccer — died Wednesday. He was 85.

In 2004, I interviewed Nick for my book “Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education.” Here’s what he said:

I was born in New Jersey in 1927, and moved to Connecticut at 6 or 7. My dad, who was Greek and fled the Turks, and then worked himself up from dishwasher to restaurant and property owner, lost everything in the Depression.

I graduated from Roger Ludlowe High School in Fairfield in 1944. I was drafted, and went into field artillery – the radio section – of the Army, in Japan. After graduating from Fordham University I became a chemist, but it was hard to get jobs.

I worked in a paint factory as a quality control chemist. There was lots of sketchy behavior there. I worked at Dupont, blew the whistle on them for contaminating a cemetery, then blew the whistle on a battery company, and got fired.

Nick Georgis, doing what he loved best: teaching.

My wife suggested teaching physics. Westport was the only district interested in hiring. [Staples principal] Stan Lorenzen saw my zeal, and suggested I get more physics courses. I took 7 years of courses around the country, and was hired in 1959.

I loved the new Staples building on North Avenue. I was in heaven. I had a room and a lab to do whatever I wanted. I had 4 physics classes, and was happier than a lark. And I was paid the magnificent sum of $5,000.

Once a month, [industrial arts teacher] Auran Fox and I drove to surplus stores upstate. We picked up a huge  radar magnet off a World War II destroyer for 50 cents. We put it in the truck, and football players carried it upstairs. I just signed my name for everything, and sent the bill to the Board of Education. Finally they said I couldn’t do that, because I didn’t have a proper purchase order. Well, I never knew ahead of time what I was going to get!

Sigfried Schreiner, another industrial arts teacher – and a survivor of the Bataan Death March – made me a crossbow. Ed Ponte added a compass. We’d go out on the football field, and shoot at different angles. The kids did all kinds of calculations based on that. We almost hit a girl on the field hockey field, though, so we had to curtail that.

Clarence Berger, who had gone to the Bronx High School of Science and Wesleyan, was a super teacher and the head of the science department. He became my mentor. He was crackerjack. He told me to tape myself teaching. I realized I was tongue-tied. I had 12 Merit Scholars the first year, and just tried to keep up with them.

Nick Georgis had a great sense of humor. Here he portrayed himself as a mad scientist.

As department head Stan Rhodes gave us carte blanche to teach what we wanted. In later years we were told what to teach and how to teach it. But no one bothered me, because no one knew what physics was about.

We started with 100 boys in physics, and 1 girl. Thirty years later, it was 50-50. One girl, who was a Merit Scholar, didn’t think she could do physics. I said, “You can do anything you want.” No one had ever told her that before.

One girl is now a Ph.D. professor at the University of Alaska. Other women are teaching at the university level too – and men, of course. The payoff comes years later.

The first test I gave, kids were giving Morse Code answers to each other. I recognized it, and tapped back: “Stop transmitting.” That incident helped start K1UAT. We turned my prep room into a ham radio club. One Saturday afternoon we strung wire for an antenna from the top of the auditorium to Building 7 – without permission. No one knew it was there until it snowed; then everyone saw it.

We trained over 300 kids as amateur radio operators. Many of them are still active. We bought Heath kits, and soldered our radios together. Junior high kids couldn’t wait to get to Staples, and join K1UAT.

When Room 963 was being built, I strung wires and pipes during the construction. We put 9 antennas on the roof – again without permission. One day in 1964, when Barry Goldwater was running for president, I contacted him – he was a ham operator too. He said he’d call back.

Stan Rhodes came in during class and said, “Barry Goldwater’s on the phone for you.” The kids were amazed. We set up a call for noon. When I said, “Thank you, Senator,” he said, “No, call me Barry.”

I went to the social studies department, and made sure 963 was packed. At exactly 12 o’clock, he called. He said, “K1UAT, this is G3″ — whatever his call sign was – “hey Nick, how ya doin’?” The kids were astonished. He took questions from them, and said, “The tougher the questions, the better – they won’t sandbag me.” We hung his card in our room with all the others we’d received.

We also talked to King Hussein of Jordan. Again, Stan told me in class he was on the phone. His call sign was JY1 – he was #1 in the whole country. He started out, “Ah, my good friend Nick, how are you?” It was electrifying.

In retirement, Nick Georgis created and sold “Nerd Kards” — baseball-style cards portraying famous scientists.

I did other things, too. Craig [Matheson] and I devised a pulley system for [the Staples Players’ production of] “Peter Pan.” That was interdisciplinary education at its best.

And I loved soccer – I’d help start the program when I was a student at Ludlowe. When I met [Staples coach] Albie Loeffler, I knew he was the one to emulate. I went to every game I could. It was so enjoyable to watch those kids – they were special.

Teaching was God and apple pie for me. To this day, I still have all my grade books. Whenever I hear a name mentioned, I go back and look up that student. Staples is still very much in my heart.

50 responses to “Remembering Nick Georgis

  1. Nancy Powers Conklin

    Great article, Dan. May Mr. Georgis rest in peace. He certainly deserves it.

  2. They don’t make them like that anymore. What a wonderful story, I was never smart enough to take his class, at least I thought, but he was at every soccer game I played at staples. Great interview Dan, and what an interesting and great life Nick lived.

  3. He seem like he was like the Damon Runyon of Physics professors. Obviously, the students who had the privilege of his instruction were pretty lucky. Wish I had had such a teacher for Physics. The science angels are cheering!

  4. Richard Lawrence Stein

    Physics were not my forte as was science, but I knew who Mr. Georgis was and now I wish I had had him. He was a remarkable man and teacher.

  5. Bonnie Scott Connolly

    This is a great tribute, Dan. I remember Mr. Georgis with fondness. Must be I struggled through Physics.

  6. There are few things I remember more clearly or fondly than physics classes with Mr. Georgis or time spent in the Ham lab. In retrospect, his love for the subject, for the kids, and for teaching in general was unsurpassed. After reading your excerpt, Dan, I realized that many of the attitudes I approach life with these days — in particular the philosophy of asking forgiveness rather than permission — probably stems quite significantly from this wonderful man. May he rest in peace and may more educators follow in his quirky, unique and effective style.

  7. 73 OM. Craig K1QX

  8. Dan, great read and I wish more teachers had his passion. I did not know him but I know my daughter would have loved to have him. My deepest sympathy to his family, but let his teachings and memories remind us what truly life is all about, “living.”

  9. What a great article, Thank you.
    RIP Mr. Georgis

  10. Nick Georges was a good man. i wasn’t much of a physics student but have fond memories of him and his demonstrations. I suspect we are all better for having had him as a teacher and having known him.

  11. Peter Gambaccini

    Nick Georgis worked with my father and my mother in the dining hall at Fordham University back in the 1940s; they met again in Westport in the 1950s. He was a good and joyful friend, always. One of the undeniably very good people.

  12. Nick Georgis got to know Staples Soccer maybe more than any other fan, I remember how he remembered the great games and so many of the players by name and always with a smile. Great to see him at the Staples Soccer 50th reunion.

  13. Nick Georgis, one-of-a-kind, as your interview points out! His enthusiasm was contagious. His pound cake recipe was famous. A great man. A tremendous teacher – in the whole sense of the word.

  14. Freshman year in college, I was deathly afraid to go to physics class. At Staples, it was fun. I loved it. To this day, I vividly remember Mr. Georgis’ absolute glee, as he demonstrated objects sliding down a 45-degree track. His delight in his field was palpable and infectious. He was the embodiment of the concept that if teachers are passionate for their subject, learning will be downright joyous! Whether or not we’d become physics nerds (I’m a nerd, but not in physics), we all loved Mr. Georgis. He had a deep-seeded affection for kids. He seemed to understand and empathize with us. He was a true working class hero for me, and really stands out in my memory. Thanks so much for your thoughtful piece, Dan. There is no finer gift than making a difference. Nick Georgis did it in spades.

  15. A. David Wunsch

    A wonderful memoir. Alas, Heathkit, of which he speaks fondly, is gone. I built their oscilloscope in the summer of 1957– a year out of Staples.

    David Wunsch

  16. David Harrison

    Nick was one of my teacher role models at Staples. How fortunate I was to learn from him…and to have shared the “downstairs” room to his upstairs lab…lots of resounding exchanges over the years. Shared lots of rides with him to many soccer matches…those rides, too, were learning experiences for me. Rest in peace, good friend. David Harrison

  17. Jon Gailmor said it perfectly in describing Nick’s “absolute glee” in his work. But glee was in his pranks, too. He taught me how to short-circuit a light switch in Building 6, so that, when properly manipulated, would ring all the bells. He said it had something to do with a “frequency” the bell system understood. And we rang bells. And no one never knew. Ring them now endlessly for Nick. –Karl Decker

  18. I got to know Nick through Staples soccer. He was simply a terrific guy who had a passion for many things.

  19. Like others here, I wasn’t much of a physics student, but I adored Nick Georgis. Terrific guy, terrific teacher, and a great loss.

  20. Dear Dan,
    Thank you so very much for the kind words and great story of my grandfathers life at Staples. I have to laugh because he was a brilliant man in science, however I found myself always having to show him how things worked in the mechanical world even though those items were derived by the very science he taught! YES, he so loved soccer and truly pressed upon all 3 off us to play the game, if he missed a Staples game, it was only because he was watching one of ours!

    Many thanks to all of you for your kind words and memories of my grandfather, Nick Georgis, God Bless!

  21. Mr Georgis was my homeroom teacher in the 10th grade. There was usually very little interaction with an instructor during this period. Not so with Mr Georgis, he was always engaging, appeared interested in everyones day. I don’t recall ever seeing an on and off switch, teaching for him was truly a calling.

  22. Nick Georgis was a great guy. I was in his physics class the year he had a heart attack. This was during the period of the Watergate hearings, so when he got back, in addition to teaching physics, he had us watch the hearings on TV – he really did know what was important. He even brought in popcorn!

  23. Mr Georgis classes were always so interesting and I was lucky to have him as my teacher. And who can forget his famous pound cakes?

  24. Thanks very much for republishing this piece. It’s very sad to hear of his passing but Mr. Georgis leaves us so many great memories. He not only taught me physics, he also taught me to drive! A smart, fun, patient man.

  25. A completely heartwarming and energizing piece. Nick Georgis found his passion and pursued it with zeal. A great message lesson for all of us.

  26. Nick Georgis was without a doubt the best teacher I ever had. Being a mediocre(actually worse) math student, he managed to open my eyes to the world of physics through amazing explanations of how things work and what makes the world tick. From his wife’s pound cakes to K1UAT talks with people from all over the world and pulling pranks on other unaware students, Nick was an amazing mentor for me during my days at Staples.
    I’ll never forget the time we camouflaged the static electricity generator in the hallway and watched kids get zapped as they walked by :).
    Memories are flooding as I’m writing this and there are just so many. Those were some great fun times.

    Nick had an amazing influence on me and I will never forget him. I left Westport to live in Israel for 20 years, but did manage to keep in touch with him from time to time. When he made NerdKards, he put a bunch in the mail and sent them to me. I still have them and will keep them forever.

    Rest in peace Nick Georgis.

    Sharon Vardi
    Class of ’90

  27. Mr. Georgis taught me to drive. I thought for sure teaching driving would be an early end to him. I got through driving class and physics as well.

  28. Mr. Georgis was the best! I was in his physics class the day we shot the arrow from the cross bow. It overshot its mark by about 75 yards, landed 4 yards from a girl on the field hockey field, and that was when he reconsidered. ;)
    One other funny tale. One day a student fell asleep in his class, and he had all of us quietly one-by-one leave the room until it was just the student and Nick left. Hysterrical when he woke up because we were all peering in from the door.
    He was an immense soccer fan. Bottom line. You felt deeply cared for by him. I will never forget his mischievous sparkle and smile! What a blessing!

  29. Gerry Kuroghlian

    Nick Georgis was one of the true master teachers at Staples. Although I lacked any interest in Physics, I learned more about interesting students from Nick Georgis than any graduate course I had taken . He dazzled with his experiments and passion. Electocuting potatoes might have been my favorite demonstration ( I do not know the principles illustrated) but a close runnerup was showing that Hostess Twinkies were nothing more than a chemical tidbit. I never ate another. I hold fond memories and a set of Nerd Cards in tribute to him.

  30. As I signed up for Physics heading into my senior year, Mr. Georgis said quietly to me, “your grade depends entirely on how you play this year.” We went undefeated, won the FCIAC and State crowns…and I got an A!

    I also recall one game where a Chris Kranick blast split the wooden goal post at Stamford Catholic, rather than stop the game, Mr. Georgis realigend the post and held it up for the remainder of the match. A dedicated fan and a downright great guy. They just don’t come any better than that.

  31. All those things, plus…he taught me to drive. I’ll never forget how I accelerated too fast and spilled his coffee on the floor of that little blue car. Sorry ’bout that, Mr.Georgis.

  32. Nick Georgis K1MAR was my first mentor. At 13, I was encouraged to visit the new Staples and seek him out if I wanted to become a “ham.” I did, and he encouraged me, and ultimately administered the Novice exams. He went easy on the Morse Code, which helped. He was a generous, enthusiastic, and creative teacher who made science exciting, and got many a young person started on a career path in science/engineering.

  33. Nick was one of the reasons teaching at Staples was a joyous and exciting job. He was a great model for young teachers because of his constant excitement and good humor about everything that happened in and out of the classroom. We never knew what sort of prank he would unveil next.

    I am grateful that I was able to visit him in the nursing home several weeks ago. Although weakened by his condition, he was still the Nick I have known all these years. He was, as so many others have said, one of a kind.
    He will be missed.

  34. Great teacher, great to teach in the same school. I’ll never forget his visit to my class where he dissected the physics of several novels. (The boys couldn’t have started the fire on Lord of the Flies. Piggy’s poor eyesight required the wrong lenses.)
    My condolences to his family all those to whom he was dear.

  35. Diann Drenosky

    Nick was one of the first teachers I met when I came to Staples High School to teach. He was fun, engaging, enthusiastic and was always plotting and planning his next prank. He was a delight to be around and a great mentor. I was privileged to visit him a few weeks back in his nursing home and he still was enthusiastic about life and his family and still had that wonderful twinkle in his eye. I walked away from that visit so thankful that I knew Nick Georgis. We have lost a great guy.

  36. Dan. Are there funeral plans?

    Sent from my iPhone

  37. Nick and I retired from Staples about the same time but we kept in fairly close contact thereafter because I really loved talking to him and seeing how Nerd Kards were going as he contacted big corporations (without much success) for funding. I once sent him an online golf putting game only to have him inform me that he had the patent or was seeking it for whatever physical mystery made the game work. He had a keen, funloving mind which made him such a great teacher and such a wonderful guy.

  38. Nick Georgis exemplified Greek spirit–a zest for life, a caring spirit, and a sense of humor that couldn’t be topped.

    What an engaging man–staff and students at Staples HS adored him.

    Sarah Herz

  39. Bill Barzelay

    Dan, thanks for the information concerning the passing of Nick Georgis. For me, Nick was one of those very few inspirational teachers that had the talent to change one’s life. In fact I majored in Physics during college. I happened to stumble upon Nick’s email address on Westporter.com a couple of years ago. We exchanged several emails. I told him 44 years after graduation how much his dedication impacted my studies / work life and interests. His response was… “that is what I live for”. Nick was one of teachers that pulled it all together and connected the dots. I shall never forget the feeling of truly understanding what Nick was teaching. A heart felt RIP.

  40. Nothing but fond memories of Nick. He was a class act and always there with an enthusiastic smile for me during some tough times.

  41. Thanks for sharing this, Dan. I had some really good laughs from his excerpt from your book. Makes me wish I had taken science my senior year after all. I remember his reputation as being a much loved teacher and of course huge soccer fan. Sad to hear of his passing.

  42. Hello all,
    The family of Nick Georgis is requesting photos to be uploaded to
    http://www.commercehillfh.com for a slide show. We thank you all for your kind words and thoughts.

  43. I had Nick Georgis for Physics my senior year at Staples. A wonderful teacher whose energy never failed. His classes were always fun, engaging and memorable. He was one of those teachers you saw not just as a teacher, but as a human being. He was one of the people who made my high school experience extraordinary. He will be missed.

  44. Only fond memories of Nick Georgis who inspired me to get a degree in physics. I even have a set of Nerd Kards squirreled away somewhere. Thanks Dan for reminding us what a wonderful person he was.

  45. Mr. Georgis was an amazing physics teacher, and also taught me to drive. I will never forget his enthusiasm and kindness.

  46. 73′s and god speed Nick, de K1JCF (Joe F)

  47. Hi Dan, Thanks so much for writing a terrific memorial to Nick Georgis. It is wonderful to read the stories again. My story: My junior year in high school at Staples, I was in the A-level physics class taught by another teacher who was terribly boring. I put in a request to transfer to the B-level physics class taught by Nick, so I could actually learn something. It was extremely unorthodox — asking to transfer to a “lower” class — but what a difference it made in my life. As a result of Nick’s profoundly inspiring (and endlessly entertaining) teaching, I’ve dedicated my life to good science. Nick will continue to serve as my mentor and friend. All the best, Carol Lyons (your old High Point Road neighbor).