Celebrating Nick Nitkin

Nick Today - 2018
Nick at age 7
Nick at age 11
Nick with his parents
Irving & Lillian
Nick at age 18 - Boot Camp 1954
December 1955
Okinawa U.S.A.F.
13th Communication Center Teletype Maintenance Shop
Nick & Jean 1957
Nick, Jean & Elisa 1960
Headed for Disneyland in CA

Celebrating Nick Nitkin

Kae Mattingly
January 2018

Who was a first-generation American in his family?  While in school this young man was given money by his parents to buy tokens to ride the bus to school.  Instead, he would buy a coke and candy bar and walk seven miles to school.  He joined the Air Force in 1954.  He met his future wife at a dance at the YWCA.  Today he is the father of three daughters, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.  He makes the best bologna sandwich ever.  This month we celebrate Nick Nitkin.

Melvin Nitkin was born on September 14, 1936, in Manhattan, New York, to Irving Samuel and Lillian Edith Nitkin.  Nick is a first-generation American in his family.  He had four brothers and one sister and he was the baby of the family.  His father, Irving Samuel Nitkin, was born in Poland during a time of political unrest.  Polish children were being killed.  Once an American family signed to take on a child, his father, age 8 at the time, was smuggled from Poland through Austria to America.  He could not speak or understand a word of English.

Living in New York during the late 30’s and early 40’s was rough.  His dad worked in a barbershop.  In the early 40’s, after World War II had started, the family moved to California.  Melvin’s dad worked for a little while in a shipyard.  He got his barbering license and went back to being a barber.  His mother stayed at home to care for the children.  Melvin never knew his grandparents or any other family members.

Melvin attended Evergreen Avenue Elementary School.  It was here his name changed to Nick.  The kids called him “Niken,” because they couldn’t say Nitkin.  Then they started calling him Nick and it stuck with him  There were no buses at that time, so Nick had to walk a mile to and from school each day.  Mrs. Eaton was his favorite teacher there.  While he was in the service he went back to the school, only to find out that Mrs. Eaton was still teaching there.  She pulled out some examples of his work from second and third grade.  She had kept a couple of samples of work from every child she had taught.  Next he attended Holenback Junior High.  His parents would give him money to buy tokens to ride the bus to school.  Nick would use the money to get a coke and a candy bar, then he walked seven miles to school.  The family then moved to Montebello, CA, where Nick graduated from Montebello High School.  While in high school, Nick worked at a shoe store selling shoes.  One day a man came in to purchase a pair of shoes.  He noticed Nick was not wearing a watch.  Nick told him he could not afford to buy one.  The man said he was the owner of a watch shop and to stop in to see him.  The next day Nick went.  The man had picked out a watch and told Nick he could have it for $5.00.  Nick told him he didn’t have that much money.  The store owner said he could pay him $1.00 a week for 5 weeks.   Nick promised he would and they shook hands on that and Nick walked out with a watch on his wrist.  In five weeks that watch belonged to Nick.  Nick believes in the saying “Your word is your bond.”

After graduation from high school in 1954, Nick joined the Air Force.  He completed his Boot Camp at Parks Air Force Base in northern California.  From there he was sent to Cheyenne, Wyoming, for Tech Schoolfor training in Communications Machines and Electronic Mechanics Repairman.  He learned to repair Teletype  Machines.  He arrived in the winter, before his machines arrived, and he was put on shoveling duty.  For the first month he shoveled coal to heat the barracks and water.  He also had 13 buildings to keep the coal fires burning.

In 1955, he was sent to Okinawa, Japan.  While there he experienced two monsoon seasons (each 30 days and nights of continuous rain) and a typhoon with wind gusts up to 198 mph.  With wind gusts of that speed, he saw large trucks being rolled over and over again and again.  His job there was repairing communication equipment.  Nick put in for TDY (temporary duty).  He was sent to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines to repair and overhaul communication equipment.  He was transported to the Philippines in a C119 airplane.  This plane had a wide body and short wings, and two engines.  It’s a wonder how this plane could stay up in the air.  While in flight, one of  the engines went out.  The red light went on which means to evacuate.  They were 400 miles off the coast of the Philippines.  The choices here were to parachute out into shark infested waters, or to go down with the ship(I mean plane!)  Nick had never parachuted from a plane and he wasn’t happy about seeing a shark.  It was scary for everyone on board.  His life passed before him. Was it going to be sharks in the water or an explosion upon impact.  He suited up in his parachute and was prepared to jump when the pilot was finally able to restart the engine.  He remained in the Philippines for 35 days working on communication equipment.

After returning back to Okinawa, he went back to regular duty.  After eight months of regular duty, he was sent back to the Philippines to overhaul more equipment.  He then had his choice of going to three different bases.  Two were in California or one in any part of the country.  He knew what California was like so he chose the last option.  He was sent to Fort Lee Virginia in Petersburg, VA.  His job there was to set up a communication system.  The equipment never came in.  Nick was sent to Richmond, VA to learn key punch.  After training he worked for IBM (Internet Business Machines) doing key punch.  After doing this for one month, he decided to do a volunteer assignment.  He was sent to Winston-Salem, NC.  His assignment was to set up and open the Union Cross 810 Radar Station.  When Nick got to his new location, his equipment had not arrived yet.  While waiting for the equipment to arrive, he and the other guys built a baseball field and formed a baseball team and a drill team.  Nick played outfield, because he was a good runner and had a strong arm for pitching the ball to home plate.  They also formed a drill team where they practiced marching and carrying flags in parades.  When the equipment arrived, he climbed poles helping the guys string wire to hook up buildings to the radio shack to allow communication from one building to the others.

Nick’s next assignment was to set up a Sage System (Semi Automatic Ground Environment system set up for early warning of Soviet air attacks), at Union Cross 810 Radar Station, to plot all aircraft in the area.  It was an isolated radar site.  There was a large plotting board, showing the location of all aircraft in the area.  If there was a plane flying in a frequency not identified, a button would be push to mark the location.  Within 90 seconds an aircraft would take off to investigate the unidentified aircraft.  Nick worked at this location for four months.

While attending a dance one night, at the YWCA, he met Jean.  He asked her for her phone number and she told him it was in the phone directory.  The next day Nick found the number and called her to ask her out on a date.  On their first date he took her to the Radar Station and to the NCO (non-commissioned officers) Club.  He described her as a very sweet, southern gal.  Upon arrival at the club, he asked her what she would like to drink.  She said “coffee”.  At the club they served only beer and cokes.  She got a coke.  As she was looking around she saw pinball machines that paid off.  She said isn’t that gambling?  That’s illegal in North Carolina.  Nick explained how government bases were not governed by state laws when it came to alcohol and gambling.  They continued to date for three months and on November 1, 1957 they were married.  This year they will celebrate 60 years of marriage.  They lived off base on S. Main Street in Winston-Salem.  On October 9, 1958, they became parents to Elisa Francine Nitkin.

In November 1958, Nick was discharged from the Air Force.  They moved to California where Nick’s family was.  Nick worked at Bank of America for a year.  He sold furniture for a while and also worked at Sears selling shoes.  Jean worked for Crown Coach, that invented the hook and ladder for fire engines.

In September 1960, they decided to move back to North Carolina.  Nick sold furniture for a while and worked for Mutual of Omaha and Ohio State Life selling life insurance.  On September 1, 1961, Tonya was born, and two years later on October 28, 1963, Sally Annette was born.  Nick went to work for Zales Jewelry Store, where he was promoted to manager.  His first store assignment was in Portsmith, Virginia, where he stayed for two years.  While there, chemicals from a fertilizer plant were being released twice a week, making it difficult for Jean to breathe.  Nick transferred to a Zales store in Charlotte, NC.  After five months, Nick was transferred to Hickory.  They lived there for three years.  By this time, the girls had been in three different schools in six months in the same grade.  They decided to move back to Winston-Salem and settle down.  Nick had a couple of jobs working in two different jewelry shops.  A friend of his that worked for Brendles suggested he should join the company.  He went to work at Brendles at the Greensboro location.  After 14 months he received a call from the Home Office asking him to oversee the building of a new location on Reynolda Road.  He learned to read blue prints, he hired employees, and the store opened.  Nick worked for the company for 17 years and then they went bankrupt.  Nick then took a full-time job at Auto Supply Company.  For 15 years he delivered auto parts.  Today Nick is still working.  He works one day a week at the Greensboro Auto Auction, on Wendover.  About 2,000 cars a day go though the auction block and Nick has fun driving some of thos cars through.

Nick is a third degree Mason and a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason.  He is a member of the Kernersville Masonic Lodge #669.  In November 1983, he became a Shiner and joined the Oasis Shrine Mini-Motors from Winston-Salem.  From 1983-1989, he rode on a mini motorcycle in parades.  In November 2011, he joined the Eastern Star.  From 2012-2013, Nick was Associate Worthy Patron, and from 2013-2014, he was Worthy Patron for the Kernersville Lodge #205.

Nick and Jean joined First Presbyterian Church in Kernersville on April 17, 2011.  Nick was ordained and installed as a Elder on January 20, 2014.  He has served on the Personnel and Stewardship & Finance Committees.  He participated in the Egg Ministry as a scooper.



His love of family, God, and country.



Don't mistake kindness for weakness.  It takes a lot of strength to be kind.


His grandchildren say nobody can make a bologna sandwich as good as PawPaw!

1984 Wilmington, NC
Oasis Temple Shriners
performing maneuvers
Nick, Jean, Alisa, Tonya & Sally



Nick & Jean today - 2018