Richard P. Nickelsen

The campus community mourns the passing of Professor Richard Nickelsen, 89, who died on Sunday, November 23. Richard joined the Bucknell Faculty in 1959 and after teaching for 33 years, retired as Professor Emeritus of Geology in 1992.

He was born October 1, 1925, in Lynbrook, NY, son of the late Karl and Olga (Holm) Nickelsen. On November 18, 1950, he married the former Helen “Cindy” Beardsley. Together they celebrated 64 years of marriage.

Surviving in addition to his wife are his children, Abby Nickelsen, of North Potomac, MD, Bruce Nickelsen and wife, Maria Uria-Nickelsen, of Upton, MA, and Jillian Nickelsen and husband, Chuck Jensen, of Durango, CO; one grandson, Lucas Jae Nickelsen; and two cousins, John and Mildred Nickelsen of northern California. He was preceded in death by his parents, and his uncle and aunt, Vagn and Magda Holm.

As a boy, Richard became passionate about bird watching with a primary interest in birds that summered in the Arctic and birds of prey. At the urging of friends, Richard joined the Boy Scouts and eventually became an Eagle Scout. Richard graduated from Malverne, NY high school in 1943 and then served in the Army for the balance of World War II.

He received his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and then began his Arctic adventures, sailing on a government ice-breaker to Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic. He and his friend were paid a dollar a day to dismantle a tower, which they later learned was part of the DEW line system. Richard then earned his master’s and Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. During this time he was hired by the U.S. Geological Survey, mapping in the northern Alaska wilderness north of the Kuskokwim River.

After receiving his doctorate degree in 1953, he began his teaching career at Penn State in the Department of Mineral Industries. In the fall of 1959, he came to Bucknell with a mandate from the dean to build a Geology Department. He served as Department Chair for many years and, during that time, received the Bucknell Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching. He continued his research projects in the Appalachian Mountains, spending many summers in the mountains of Norway, supported by the NATO fellowship. In 1991, he was honored by the Northeast and Southeast Section of the GAS with a Symposium on Thrust-Belt Structure and Tectonics. After retirement, he continued his work, mapping in southern Pennsylvania and working in the Dominican Republic, Wyoming and Bryce Canyon. In 1994, he received the Career Contribution Award from the Structural Geology and Tectonics Division of the Geological Society of America, of which he was a lifelong member.

He was a founding member of the Susquehanna Valley Chorale and the Linn Conservancy. He enjoyed serving on the board of the Union County Conservation District. In 2012, he received the Great Egret Award from the National Audubon Society and Seven Mountains Audubon, having served during a 40-year span as board member, program chair and chapter president, and coordinating the Christmas Bird Count for more than 20 years. He has led countless field trips throughout the region and was instrumental in laying out the Dales Ridge Trail.

His family is planning a memorial service in the Unitarian tradition with a gathering afterwards, the date and place to be announced separately. Flowers will be provided by the family. In lieu of flowers, a contribution in his memory may be made to Seven Mountains Audubon, the Bucknell Geology Marchand Fund in support of undergraduate research, or a charity of your own choosing.

The family is being assisted by Cronrath-Grenoble Funeral Home, 106 S. Second Street, Lewisburg. Expressions of sympathy may be shared at

On behalf of the entire Bucknell community, I extend our deepest sympathies to Richard’s family, as well as to all who knew him at Bucknell.

John C. Bravman

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