Bradley H. Nystrom, a revered education and mathematics professor at Centre College from 1973 to 2006, passed away on Jan. 22, 2016, at the age of 74.
Nystrom was born on April 13, 1941, and grew up in Le Sueur, Minn. He began his pursuit of education with a degree from Phillips Exeter Academy, followed by a B.A. with majors in both history and mathematics as well as teaching licensure in these subjects from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. He later received an M.A. and Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition, he held a Certificate of African Studies.
When Nystrom arrived at Centre in 1973, he joined one other education faculty member. He later served as the program chair for many years, leading the members of Centre’s education program through multiple successful accreditations by the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board. At the time of his retirement in 2006, the program had grown to three tenure-track faculty positions.
In addition to teaching at Centre, Nystrom also taught at Moshi Secondary School in Tanzania (where he met his wife, Judy), Stillwater High School in Minnesota (during a full-year sabbatical in 1980-81) and Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. He specialized in secondary education and worked primarily with students preparing to teach at the secondary level.
During his years of teaching, Nystrom saw many educational changes from the K-12 to the college-level classroom. As noted by J. H. Atkins, retired associate professor of education and assistant vice president for diversity education, “he weathered the storm for numerous and different changes” required of educators. Nystrom worked to help students understand the KERA reform movement in the 1990s as well as changes in expectations, such as hands-on and project-based learning experiences. He also led the College’s education program through the early 2000s curricular reform, resulting in new courses that better prepared Centre students for teaching the children and adolescents of the new millennium. Further, he worked with many first-year teachers participating in the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program in the Danville and Boyle County schools. He also served on the Equitable Schools Institute team for Danville Schools in the early 2000s.
Nystrom’s interest in comparative education led him to international studies, engaging him in visits to schools in India and Egypt, as part of Fulbright-Hays group projects, as well as schools in Russia and East Africa. In the summers of 2000 and 2002, he participated in a symposia at the International Learning Center, University of Nairobi in East Africa, and later visited the University of Dar es Salaam and other parts of Tanzania. In 2005, he received a grant to bring a Tanzanian professor, Dr. Peter Chonjo, to Centre’s campus to assist in teaching a first-year seminar.
Among his many credits, Nystrom was co-author of “Centre College” in The Kentucky Encyclopedia (The University Press of Kentucky, 1992), as well as co-author of Higher Education in Developing Countries: A Select Biography (Harvard University Center for International Affairs, 1970). He was a longtime member of the Comparative and International Education Society, in addition to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and the National Council for Social Studies.
As professor emeritus, Nystrom enjoyed coffee and discussion of national and world events as well as local happenings with other retired faculty members at the Emeritus house, fondly referred to as “Jurassic Park.” He also worked with JoAnn Hamm of the Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD) in Danville to research and archive the near 200-year-old establishment’s unique story, securing the role of deaf history in the community. Hamm also credits Nystrom, who was a board member of the Jacobs Hall Museum Committee, with helping the museum secure two Kentucky Humanities Council grants.
“The deaf community admired and respected Brad and was grateful for his dedication to preserving the history of KSD and the Jacobs Hall Museum. They, and I, feel that we have lost a great friend,” added Hamm.
Former Centre students also acknowledged Nystrom’s dedication to his work, including Danville High School English teacher Steve Meadows ’91, who remarked, “It was evident he knew and understood his students well and worked hard to help them be their best in the classroom.
“He had a sly humor he didn’t show often,” Meadows continued, “but he always had a big heart for his students. Centre and his former students benefitted greatly from his work.”
Nystrom also took great pride in watching his students develop as educators, like Donald Shively ’97, a school superintendent in Paducah, Ky.
“We have lost a great educational leader,” Shively said. “However, what he instilled in me and others will continue to impact our youth forever.”
Former student and author Skila King Brown ’99 also reflected, “I can’t think of Dr. Nystrom without smiling. He had a very subtle sense of humor and a devotion to his students.
“Not many professors would spend their Saturdays taking students on field trips—to see the sights we were studying in his Kentucky History class—but Dr. Nystrom did,” Brown continued. “He expected great things from his students, and we all wanted to meet those expectations. He was genuinely invested in the art of training new teachers for the world. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.”
Sarah Powell ’99, an assistant professor of education at the University of Texas at Austin, added that Nystrom “was a true educator who influenced many teachers, and, for people like me, his influence extends to my training of future teachers. A great legacy for a great person.”
Faculty members who taught and served with Nystrom also recognized his intelligence and sense of humor during both academic and personal conversations.
Professor Emeritus of History Mike Hamm expressed the difficulty of summarizing more than forty years of friendship—a bond forged over activities in and out of the classroom, including Centre athletics, intramural faculty basketball, bridge club and countless other occasions. “Brad had a laid-back personality, but he worked hard,” said Hamm. “His humor, always subtle, remained and entertained us all. Brad had a good life. He will be missed.”
Harlan Professor Emeritus of Government Bill Garriott shared that he did not know Nystrom well until they became neighbors on the first floor of Young Hall, only then learning how broad his interests were. “We had many conversations about teaching, about education, about Centre,” he said, adding that it was evident “he enjoyed his students, and he was proud of those who became successful teachers.”
“I respected his intellect and his dedication to his profession, valued his friendship and admired his courage,” Garriott added. “I will miss him. I’m glad that once I was his neighbor.”
Matton Professor Emeritus of Psychology Brent White explained that Nystrom was “a dear friend and colleague,” one who was always an entertaining “source of news” about the activities of other divisions, family updates and community interests. “We will miss, but not forget, the hikes, road trips, shared meals, Shaker picnics, concerts, wisdom, intellectual stimulation, humor and friendship.”
Stodghill Professor of French and German Ken Keffer said that he and Nystrom had a common interest in walking and that, after his retirement, Nystrom accompanied his walking class—as driver, scout and local expert—all over Central Kentucky during 2008, 2011 and 2014.
“Brad was the leader at the back of the line, making sure no one got lost, making sure he got to know the students, too. He always ended up knowing more about them than I did, and I saw them far more often!” Keffer explained. “This indirect and modest leadership suited him ideally. Let it be the template for humanity. I was just one of Brad’s friends, but not alone in my indignation that he should leave the world. I will miss him. So will many others.”
Director of International Programs and Professor of English Milton Reigelman described Nystrom as “modest, self-effacing, understated and even-tempered.”
He added, “In his unobtrusive fashion he’d often stop by my office with some quirky question or bit of information, and we’d carry on a conversation that almost always operated on two levels: the words themselves and the witty subtext of meaning that lay underneath, underneath.
“Dave Newhall said he had ‘Swedish charisma,’ meant as a high compliment,” Reigelman continued. “I already miss him terribly, as I know his family and many other Danvillians do. He was immensely proud of his children, Brent and Meg, and talked often of his grandchildren.”
Academic Dean Stephanie Fabritius concluded, “Brad was clever, entertaining and interesting. He was also very inventive. I loved to hear his stories of gadgets with unknown function. And, I loved his passion for women’s soccer. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know him.”
Perhaps Bradley Nystrom’s legacy can best be characterized in the following quotes from two of our most important leaders:
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
– John Dewey
by Donna M. Plummer, Professor of Education
January 25, 2016
Dr. Nystrom’s family has indicated that a memorial service will be held Saturday, Feb. 6 at 11 a.m., with a visitation at 10 a.m. before the service, at The Presbyterian Church in Danville. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to Jacobs Hall Museum at Kentucky School for the Deaf.