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James Hughlon Nygaard – 1967 Classmate and Friend, Gone but not Forgotten

Today, March 29, 2015, we gather together to honor a treasured member of our class of 1967,

 JAMES HUGHLON NYGAARD

 Jim’s membership in our class and his presence at past reunions of the group over the years bring fond memories for me and I’m sure many of you as well.  As I document my memories, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Bryan Nygaard, Jim’s son, for allowing us to take this final journey with his father, our friend Jim.  I deem it my personal honor to have this opportunity to share a story of our friend and classmate.

I first remember Jim as a child as well as each of you as my classmates.  We progressed into our respective teenaged years and together we all inched our ways into adulthood.  There were missteps by each of us but also achievements along the way—most commonly referred to as life.

Jim accomplished much in his lifetime, he travelled with musicians as sound man and was heavily involved in music his entire life.  He served his country and was blessed with a son Bryan who I’m sure can relate many stories and memories of their lives together.  I pray those good times will remain a guiding light as Bryan progresses through his life.

Jim possessed an amazing quality of voice memorable even in our youth.  The timbre of his voice was as a beautiful deep-toned and rich instrument and he expertly performed that booming cadence of music each time he opened his mouth.  I often wondered if he knew how the strength and tone of his voice affected others.  (I never personally knew if he could actually sing or if he merely carried a tune in a bucket!)  If he indeed had a musical voice I can only imagine the rich and deep notes would have carried for miles…

His physical stature was as a stalwart oak tree, tall and strong and when he entered the room, his presence was immediately felt.  His laughter usually preceded his entrance as he joyously greeted family, friends and even strangers— the latter of which he very seldom met.  He was instantly liked by many and could tell wonderful stories and jokes with the best of them. The jokes over the years will most assuredly stay in your memories and mine as well.  He shared himself with all he met and my last visit with him was a joyous and pleasant occasion even though I knew he was suffering from the treatments demanded by his illness.

In the early years of Y2K (we all know when that year arrived…) My friend and co-worker Chris Smith of the Eighth Circuit supported computer and sound equipment for courtrooms, jails and various locations within this Judicial Circuit.  In the realm of his position, Chris was required to travel to locations and meet with various vendors.  He relates his very first meeting with our friend, Jim Nygaard as follows:

“I had spoken with Jim over the phone on a few occasions but had never met him in person and found he was very knowledgeable and willing to help with any questions we had regarding sound equipment.  Baker County had a hundred year old historical courtroom; one of the largest in the area.  As such, it was graced with beautiful eighteen foot ceilings but was unfortunately an acoustically “hot” room and we needed to install new sound equipment.  During the very necessary renovation of that large room, we were required to make changes and Jim was the vendor representative to meet with me to discuss our requirements.

As I approached the large and historical courtroom, I looked through the gap between the courtroom doors and noticed there was a rather large man lying prone on the floor…perfectly motionless with hands outstretched to either side of his body, almost as in the shape of a cross.  The huge hiking boots pointed in my direction revealed very large, long and hairy legs extending from a pair of khaki walking shorts.  There was no one else present in that darkened room but this very large man and me.  He had a very ‘healthy’ frame and completing his ‘ensemble’ was a very colorful Hawaiian styled shirt.  He possessed a tremendously full head of hair and a very full goatee.  (My initial reaction was oh my Lord, there’s a dead man in the courtroom!)  My heart jumped into my throat; I feared somehow this man had found his way into our courtroom and suffered a heart attack. I wondered how in the world he had gotten into our locked building but hurried to his aid nonetheless.  I prayed I wasn’t already too late! 

In my fear that this man may have been beyond any human help, I thought I heard the voice of God. (Now, I AM a praying man and know miracles do happen but in this instance chills began to run up my spine and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end!)  My heart raced as I rushed in to help.  To my absolute amazement however, in the next instant I witnessed this very large man who I previously feared was deceased lift up his hands and strongly clap once!  The next thing I heard was a beautiful deep and rich baritone voice chanting ‘one, two, three.’  The music of his chant rose up from the courtroom floor to the extremely high rafters of that beautiful hundred year old courtroom Time stood still for me as twice more the clap came then the baritone of ‘one, two, three’ reverberated within that darkened room.  As soon as I could get my feet to move I hurried toward him to help when he spontaneously sprang up from his supine position on the floor and offered his hand in greeting!  (I was amazed since normally people of his size were slow to get up—not so with THIS man; he was as nimble as any athlete!) 

He didn’t actually ignore me during his chanting; he just never missed a beat in what I learned to understand was his method of testing the acoustics of the room.  He had been the first to arrive at the building and immediately began his duties even before I arrived!   “Hey, I’m Jim” he said. “You must be Chris; I recognize your voice from our talks over the phone!”  As my blood pressure began to lower once again I realized the large man who was formerly completely supine on the floor was now standing in front of me offering his hand in greeting! 

I gladly shook this huge man’s hand and was amazed that he immediately lurched into action giving recommendations on how best we could give this beautiful old courtroom the proper sound equipment.  He offered no apology for my finding him in the obviously unusual position on the floor but his professionalism was very evident.  It was clearly obvious to me that he absolutely knew his craft.  I immediately trusted his opinions and recommendations and that trust and friendship continued to the last day I saw Jim just a few weeks before he left our presence. 

On the initial day when I first met Jim Nygaard, we became fast friends and over the years of his career and mine, he was always available for help with sound requirements but was always cognizant of the county and state budgets.   It was a while in fact, before I realized he did not own the company but he made sure his customers were treated fairly and justly, a true testament to his great customer service skills.

I miss my friend Jim but that day when I thought I heard the voice of God I now realize …”Nope…it was just good old Jim…”

                Chris Smith – Eighth Judicial Circuit, Alachua County, FL

When Chris first told me of this story, I felt I needed to document it since it spoke volumes not only of Chris’ caring for his friend Jim but also of Jim’s absolute presence, humor and spirit which is sorely missed.

When I first learned of Jim’s illness I began an email correspondence with him and attempted to keep up with his treatments and progress.  During one of those times of treatment, I visited him at his treatment residence in Gainesville and together we reminisced about the old days, sharing our respective stories of family.  He shared with me how extremely proud he was of his son Bryan.  Jim mentioned that he was at peace with his illness but would do his best to fulfill his “bucket list” before leaving our presence; that positive outlook and sunshine still shining through.  I hope he was able to carry out all or at least most of what he set out to do.   He did speak positively of his treatment and never once did I hear a complaint from his lips of what or how he was suffering.  He possessed such a positive outlook on a terrible disease.

Unfortunately that disease did take our friend from within our midst but the hole left within our numbers will remain a treasured part of each of our walks through this life and I am so glad and blessed that I had the treasure of James Hughlon Nygaard as a friend.

Today we say goodbye to our friend and classmate Jim and thank him for the wonderful memories.  My prayers go to Bryan and family and hope your memories are sweet and lasting.

One only imagines that great customer service skill and friendly nature we all knew with our friend Jim is now being witnessed in a new and better realm…

As my dear friend and co-worker Marsha kindly commented after reading my story, “I can only think the Lord said “It’s time Jim . . . I must have that voice in MY choir…”

Rest in Peace Jim, dear classmate and friend…

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