FLUSHING — Community photographer Gary Nickel made a heartfelt and lasting impression on the many Flushing residents he photographed over the years.
In return, community and business leaders in Flushing honored his memory by holding the first-ever Gary Nickel Day on Aug. 19. The event, hosted by the Flushing Area Chamber of Commerce and the Flushing Area Senior Center (FASC), celebrated Nickel’s life and his impact on the city, while also coinciding with World Photography Day.
Nickel, 76, passed away last December from COVID-19 related complications.
As a volunteer photographer for the Flushing Area Chamber of Commerce, Nickel dedicated many hours to covering ribbon cuttings and Chamber networking luncheons, as well as community festivals, fundraisers, Flushing Community Schools events and senior center functions—all without taking a penny for his services. He was also an FASC Board of Directors member and an active member of Westside Church in Flushing.
To recognize Nickel’s contributions, the FASC unveiled Gary’s Gallery—a wall inside the center’s main gathering room that’s devoted to a collection of Nickel’s photographs reproduced on canvas. The center has also launched the Gary Nickel Memorial Photography class and will be commissioning an outdoor memorial bench to honor Nickel.
Nickel’s colleagues and friends at the senior center paid respects to his life during a member’s luncheon on Gary Nickel Day and recalled their favorite memories of “Mr. Flushing.”
“Whenever Gary was running around taking all those pictures…he always interacted with the people whose picture he was taking,” said Mike Stanton, who serves as chairman for the FASC Board of Directors. “With that huge smile on his face, he’d usually say something to those he photographed. He always had a funny, humorous remark to make.”
Later in the day, the Flushing Chamber of Commerce held dedications for Nickel at Riverview Park. Chamber leaders presented Gary’s wife, Lois Nickel, with a painted portrait of her husband, and official proclamations in Nickel’s honor were read by Flushing Mayor Joseph Karlichek and State Sen. Ken Horn.
Judy’s School of Dance and MGM Dance in Flushing also took to the Riverview Park Bandshell stage to present tribute dances for Nickel, who captured many special photos of performances from both studios over the past decade.
The Flushing Chamber also announced that it will be memorializing Nickel’s trademark “I love Flushing” catchphrase with a commemorative plaque and stone outside the Chamber’s office on Main Street.
Flushing Community Schools Superintendent Matt Shanafelt, who serves as President of the Flushing Chamber Board of Directors, said that Nickel’s upbeat attitude and enthusiasm for taking pictures made him a pillar of the community.
“Gary enriched our lives in so many ways through his photography,” he said. “He documented incredibly positive moments in people’s lives, and he was one of the most positive people I had the chance to get to know.”
In addition to photographing community events, Nickel enjoyed taking walks with Lois and snapping photos of animals and plant life along the Creekview Trail near their home on the west side of town. To remember Nickel’s fondness for nature and his neighborhood, Flushing City Council recently voted to rename the Creekview Trail as the Gary Nickel Memorial Creekview Trail.
Aside from photography, Nickel taught Sunday School classes and volunteered many hours of service at his home church. Pastor Ed Emmerling of Westside Church said that Nickel enjoyed public speaking and sharing his faith with others.
“He loved the power of words, not just photos and pictures,” Emmerling said. “He taught Sunday School for many years, pouring out the Word of God to people who came to his class. He loved drama, movies and the spoken word, and he shared poetic readings a lot with our church.”
To recognize Nickel’s service as a United States Marine veteran, Ron Emmerling (Ed Emmerling’s father) closed out the ceremony with a reading of one of Nickel’s favorite poems: “Just a Common Soldier (A Soldier Died Today).”
To see more photos from the Gary Nickel Day events at Riverview Park and the FASC, visit the Flushing View Facebook page.