An endowment fund has been established for Wilson Middle School in memory of Cheri Nielsen, who taught math at Wilson for 38 years.
The Cheri K. Nielsen and Dr. Barb and Les Licklider Endowment Fund was set up by Barb Licklider, who was principal at Wilson from 1985-90, according to a press release from the Council Bluffs Schools Foundation. Les Licklider, her late husband, taught at Wilson for one year and then at Kanesville Alternative High School for four years.
The fund will provide ongoing support for the school and its staff and students.
“Wilson is excited to receive funding from the Cheri K. Nielsen and Dr. Barb and Les Licklider Endowment Fund,” Principal Mike Naughton said. “This funding will provide Wilson students and staff with many opportunities. The endowment fund will provide Wilson students with access to leadership training and field trips. The endowment fund will also ensure individual student needs are met. In the fall, new teachers will use the funding to create an engaging and inviting classroom environment.
“We will continue partnering with Dr. Licklider in using the funding to create opportunities for students and staff,” he said.
The endowment, valued at $235,000, will provide approximately $12,000 annually to support students and staff at Wilson, the press release stated. Licklider will continue to add to the endowment through the years, in addition to leaving part of her estate to the fund. The annual support will provide assistance for students’ most basic needs, such as eyeglasses and clothing, as well as student and teacher support for learning, literacy, leadership development and experiences outside the classroom that enhance learning and inspire students to achieve more.
“We are incredibly grateful for this gift from Cheri, Barb and Les,” said Chris LaFerla, executive director at the Council Bluffs Schools Foundation. “Their commitment to the children and staff at Wilson Middle School is inspiring. This gift will have a direct impact on our students and staff at Wilson for many years to come.”
Summing up her excitement, Licklider said, “Wilson Junior High and Cheri Nielsen totally changed my life. Both will always be with me. Cheri was a beloved teacher, mentor, leader and friend. I want her to be remembered. With this endowment, she can continue to make a difference forever.”
During her teaching career, Nielsen represented local teachers as a negotiator for and, part of the time, president of the Council Bluffs Education Association. She also supervised student teachers from University of Nebraska at Omaha working at Wilson. She was chosen Teacher of the Year in 1987 by the school district.
It was while Licklider was at Wilson that she and Nielsen began a friendship that would last the rest of Nielsen’s life. Licklider said one of her fondest memories is sitting with Cheri on the White House lawn waiting for Pres. George H.W. Bush to present Wilson with the National Recognition Award in 1989 after the school was selected one of the best 66 middle level schools in the nation.
With Nielsen, the instruction and mentoring didn’t all go in one direction, Licklider said.
“She taught me a lot of stuff,” she said. “She gave such wise council to teachers – and administrators also.”
Retired Superintendent Dick Christie remembers working with Nielsen.
“She was really dedicated to Wilson and the students there and the staff,” he said. “She was good with kids, she worked well with her colleagues, she worked well with student teachers and she worked well with parents.”
Nielsen discussed her passion for teaching with the Nonpareil for an article published on Oct. 10, 2004.
“I started teaching because I had some excellent math teachers whom I really respected,” she said. “Now, I’m teaching because it keeps me young.”
She said the seventh-graders’ “incredible” energy and enthusiasm rubbed off on her.
“I really can’t imagine doing anything that doesn’t involve kids,” Nielsen said.
Nielsen remained fast friends with the Lickliders after they moved to the Ames area, where Barb trained administrators as a professor of education leadership at Iowa State University for 28 years.
“She spent all of her holidays with my family,” Licklider said. “It’s been hard not having her.”
Nielsen retired in 2008, according to Diane Ostrowski, chief communications officer for the Council Bluffs Community School District. In August 2009, Licklider’s husband, Les, died. She retired in 2017.
Nielsen died on Jan. 13, 2020, leaving her estate to Licklider.
“At first, I was embarrassed that Cheri left her estate to me,” Licklider said in the press release. “She had no family and was part of my family for several decades, but finally I figured it out: Cheri knew I would find a way to help support our beloved Wilson Junior High, now Wilson Middle School. This is so exciting, and I know Cheri is pleased.”
Nielsen was born in Creston on Sept. 15, 1946 to Rita Nielsen and grew up in Atlantic, graduating from Atlantic High School in 1966. She earned her bachelor’s degree at University of Northern Iowa in 1970 and was named to the Dean’s Honor List. She received a master’s degree in 1978 from Creighton University with an endorsement in administration.
To learn more or to make a donation, visit cbsf.org or call the foundation at 712-322-8800.