Carl Duane “Red” Nickell, 87, died at 12:05 p.m. Monday, May 27, 2013, at Baptist Health Paducah following a brief illness.
Nickell was born on August 17, 1925, in Eddyville, Kentucky. He was a 1944 graduate of Augusta Tilghman High School, where he was a member of the National Honor Society and excelled in sports. Among honors received in several sports, Nickell was selected to the 1944 All-State Team, recognizing him as the top blocking back/quarterback in the Commonwealth. The Paducah Sun-Democrat referred to Nickell as the Tilghman Tornado’s “carrot-topped captain,” and noted his prowess as an offensive blocker and defensive linebacker “was not questioned all year.”
A veteran of WWII, Nickell was inducted into the U.S. Army prior to receiving his high school diploma, which was presented to his mother during commencement ceremonies. He fought with the 106th “Golden Lions” Infantry Division in the Rhineland and Ardennes campaigns, and suffered severe injuries during the “Battle of the Bulge.” He was awarded the EAME Ribbon, two Bronze Service Stars, the Combat Infantry Badge, and the Purple Heart. In 2005, Nickell was named the Paducah/McCracken County Distinguished Veteran in recognition of his military and community service.
Nickell obtained a bachelor of arts degree in physical education from the University of Kentucky in 1950. Unable to accept athletic scholarships offered at U.K. and the University of Tennessee due to his wartime injuries, Nickell trained to coach while serving as a student medical trainer for U.K. football Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and basketball coach Adolph Rupp. He subsequently obtained his master’s degree in education administration at Murray State University.
Upon graduation from college, Nickell served as a teacher, superintendent, administrator, and coach at area public schools, including Paducah’s Washington Jr. High School and Jetton Jr. High School, and Metropolis High School, Unity Elementary School, and Maple Grove Elementary School in southern Illinois. His coaching efforts included a wide variety of sports, including track, volleyball, softball, and gymnastics, but he will best be remembered for his football and basketball teams, which boasted 76% and 66% winning percentages, respectively.
During his five-year tenure at Washington Jr. High School, Nickell’s football and basketball teams won several city championships over cross-town rivals at Franklin Jr. High School and Brazelton Jr. High School, and achieved one undefeated football season. Several of Nickell’s players followed him into coaching, and some played on the college level and in the National Football League.
Nickell interrupted his educational career for a stint as recreational director and head football coach at Kindley Air Force Base in Bermuda. He returned to western Kentucky to serve as director of Paducah’s parks and recreation department. His tenure witnessed the expansion and revitalization of many activities, including Golden Gloves boxing and the Paducah Swim Team. He was also a strong proponent for desegregation of all public facilities and equal access to services and activities for all citizens regardless of race. Thereafter, Nickell resumed his educational and coaching career, serving until his retirement. He remained active, however, serving as a long-term substitute teacher for the McCracken County School System and providing elderly and disabled eye patients transportation services as a van driver for the Ophthalmology Group of Paducah.
A current member of Fountain Avenue United Methodist (U.M.) Church, Nickell previously served as an Adult Sunday school teacher, board member, and/or choir member at Trinity U.M. Church, Broadway U.M. Church, and St. Luke-Aldersgate U.M. Church. For thirty years, he also organized and led busloads of area leaders and volunteers in attending the denomination’s Southeastern Jurisdictional Laity Conference in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.
In addition to many other civic involvements, Nickell served as scoutmaster of Troop 3, formerly sponsored by Broadway U.M. Church. Under his leadership, 30 young men attained the rank of Eagle Scout, including his two sons. When not coaching, Nickell enjoyed refereeing regional football and basketball games, and was one of the Commonwealth’s oldest active referees when he ended his service. He was also a former member of the Paducah Lions Club, a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, a Kentucky Colonel, and a Duke of Paducah.
Nickell is survived by his wife of 64 years, Anna June Starrett Nickell; two sons, Dr. Duane Starrett Nickell and wife Karen of Indianapolis, Indiana, and Judge Christopher Shea Nickell and wife Carolyn of Paducah; two granddaughters, Anna Marie Nickell of Greencastle, Indiana, and Sarah Elizabeth Nickell of Miami, Florida; and several nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, Thomas Reese “Nick” Nickell and wife Velina Sibyl Nickell; two brothers, Thomas Reese “T. R.” Nickell, Jr. and Cecil “Big Boy” Nickell; and one sister, Virginia “Jenny” Louise Willoughby.
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 1, 2013, at Broadway United Methodist Church in Paducah with the Rev. Jerry Hoover, Dr. Gregory Waldrop, Dr. Nathan Joyce, and Dr. Richard Beck officiating.
Visitation will occur from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. Friday, May 31, 2013, at Milner & Orr Funeral Home of Paducah and from 10 a.m. until the funeral hour at the church Saturday.
You may leave a message of sympathy or light a memorial candle at www.milnerandorr.com.