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.
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.
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.
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.