Jim Nowak, in memoriam

January 29, 2011

The world lost a caring teacher and humanitarian yesterday, when my high school classmate, Jim Nowak, died in Kenya, where he spent five months each year volunteering his time. He was hit head-on in a traffic accident on his way back from a visit to an orphanage.

A retired teacher in the Rochester, NY area, Jim believed that undeveloped nations badly needed education. To that end he had been building schools in Kenya for many years. His byword was local sustainability, so he not only lived in the communities he helped, but also used local vendors and workers. Smart.

Jim was president of my high school graduating class in East Irondequoit, NY and captain of the football team. He graduated from Cornell University. While the common definition of “success” usually means a big corporate job making big money, Jim’s definition was quite different.

As a teacher, he was much beloved, inspiring students to give the world their very best, something he, himself epitomized. As a humanitarian, his influence was wide-reaching, from western NY all the way to Africa.

I had a chance to catch up with Jim by phone in 2009 and was impressed with all he had achieved. I admired the fact that he was his own man, with his own very powerful life mission.

There is no making sense out of this kind of tragic death, except to believe that his work here on earth was done and he was wanted for bigger things.

The world will miss him.

I dedicate the blog post below to Jim Nowak, a genuine person who epitomized “Be Who You Are.”

Godspeed, Jim. And lala salama (sleep with peace in Kiswahili).

3 comments on “Jim Nowak, in memoriam
  1. Joseph says:

    James, you changed the lives of so many, and dedicated your life to others. You were a great example of the ultimate humanatarian. And I thank you for being you James, you will always be remembered and never forgotten. May God’s peace be with you and your family during this time of pain, but also of rejoyce for a life well lived, although taken too soon.

    Carol, truly a great story shared. Thank You

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is hard for me to even write, but in Honor of Jim I will. He was a mentor to me in so many ways. He taught me to stand up for what I believed in, even in the face of opposition. He, and he alone, is the reason that I became a teacher. I know so many students that have been touched by his kindness, and acute ability to give us exactly what we needed. The world lost a wonderful man, who gave everything to make our world a better place. I recently saw an interview with Jim where he said that when he got old he wanted to look back and say “Man, I have done a lot of things.” and not a man who said “Man, I wish I had done those things.” While he was taken from us too soon, I know that Jim can look at his life and know that he did a great many things…More importantly, he can look at his life and know that he inspired others to do a great many things. Many thanks to you for your work, life, and heart. RIP dear mentor and friend.

  3. Matteo says:

    I had the possibility to have known this great man here in Italy during the autumn of 2009 when his son Zach, great friend if mine, him and I had a coffee all together. Just while a hour or a bit more, I understood what he was… a great and generous person full of love to spread around. Goodbye James…

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