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The Sioux Falls community is remembering former Washington High School principal Jan Nicolay

Former Washington High School principal and lawmaker Jan Nicolay died Saturday of cancer, and people from across the state are remembering her life of accomplishments and sharing the story of her legacy.

She was the first woman to be appointed director of secondary education in Sioux Falls when she started at WHS in 1987, and was the first woman to take a leadership role in the South Dakota Legislature when she served as chairwoman of the South Dakota Legislature beginning in 1987. was the House Appropriations Committee. -1996, according to previous Argus Leader reporting.

Nicolay also served as assistant principal at Patrick Henry Middle School in 1983. She told the Argus Leader in 2015 that when she took up the position there, many had raised concerns and objections.

“Secondary directors had always been men who were perceived as physically strong. There was a general belief that if you were a woman you couldn’t handle the discipline required in a school,” Nicolay told the Argus Leader in 2015.

Jan Nicolay as shown in this Argus Leader file photo from 2015.Jan Nicolay as shown in this Argus Leader file photo from 2015.

Jan Nicolay as shown in this Argus Leader file photo from 2015.

Nicolay served as principal of WHS for nine years and oversaw the school’s transition from what is now the Washington Pavilion in 1992 to its current location on the city’s northeast side. She later served as principal of Roosevelt High School for two years and as interim principal of Southeast Technical College for a year in 2001.

As an educator, Nicolay remained involved with the South Dakota Education Association over the years, where she discovered that SDEA had no educators in the legislature. So she worked and served in Pierre for fourteen years, from 1982 to 1996. She was also appointed to the South Dakota Board of Education Standards for four years, beginning in 2004.

More: Whatever happened: former director Jan Nicolay

Both Sioux Falls School District Assistant Superintendent Jamie Nold and board member Marc Murren remember Nicolay as a strong and compassionate educator and leader.

Nicolay hired Nold 29 years ago as a math teacher and coach at WHS, and Nold “really enjoyed working with Jan,” he said.

“I always appreciated that she communicated very clearly and very openly and directly,” he said. “One thing you always knew about Jan is that she loved children, and she had a big heart for all children, especially making sure that those who weren’t always well represented, she represented them. She stood for them, fought for them and did many great things.”

Nold recalls how Nicolay created a daycare center near WHS when it took over the pavilion space so that high school students with children of their own could care for their children while continuing their education.

“At the time, that was a difficult conversation,” Nold said. “She really fought for kids in all different ways.”

He also pointed to Nicolay’s service as director of at-risk programs and principal of Irving, the first alternative high school, which is now Joe Foss’ alternative program. Today, the campus offers an individualized approach for high school students to earn their degrees.

Murren said he considered Nicolay a friend as a fellow educator for many years because of her involvement with the SDEA and her legacy of leadership at WHS.

“She and her husband Jerry were both very compassionate with children,” he said. “She is a very good person. Her heart was always open to children.”

He told a story from a time when he was still teaching social studies and coaching at WHS, and students got into a fight in the parking lot. He and another coach began to separate and part the crowd as Nicolay walked out of the building without fear.

“She started barking orders and people started listening,” he said.

Murren also said Nicolay was the one who influenced him to run for and serve on the school board. She also donated to his campaign and the campaign of board member Dawn Marie Johnson.

Mike Flynn (left) laughs as Jan Nicolay tells a story about growing up in the Hilltop neighborhood of Sioux Falls.  The two planned a reunion for the neighbors there in the summer of 2015.Mike Flynn (left) laughs as Jan Nicolay tells a story about growing up in the Hilltop neighborhood of Sioux Falls.  The two planned a reunion for the neighbors there in the summer of 2015.

Mike Flynn (left) laughs as Jan Nicolay tells a story about growing up in the Hilltop neighborhood of Sioux Falls. The two planned a reunion for the neighbors there in the summer of 2015.

Rep. Tony Venhuizen (R-Sioux Falls) wrote in his South Dakota Governors blog on Saturday that one of Nicolay’s protégés in the Legislature, former Rep. Jim Putnam (R-Armour), served as Appropriations chairman for 16 years and then became the current Senate guided. Appropriations Chairman Senator Jean Hunhoff (R-Yankton) and former Senator Deb Peters (R-Hartford), who chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee for four years.

Venhuizen said Hunhoff is the longest-serving woman in the history of the state Legislature, and Nicolay, Hunhoff and Peters are the only women to chair the appropriations committee in both chambers of the Legislature.

“She will be missed by many, but her legacy will long be remembered and felt even longer,” Venhuizen wrote about Nicolay.

Even after serving in the legislature, Nicolay remained politically active. She helped open the Outdoor Campus in the summer of 1997 and convinced former Governor Bill Janklow that it belonged in Sioux Falls. South Dakota Searchlight credits her with helping lead efforts to defeat abortion bans in 2006 and 2008, and for meeting early on the latest ballot measure to restore access to abortion.

Her passions included hunting, fishing and riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Later in life she continued to teach as a substitute in the Chester area.

Nicolay’s funeral service will be at noon Thursday at the South Dakota State Veterans Cemetery in Sioux Falls, followed by a celebration of life from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Outdoor Campus. According to her obituary, she asked people not to send flowers but to consider donating to the Outdoor Campus, the Promising Futures Fund, the Jerry or Janice Nicolay Scholarship Fund or Ava’s House, where she received hospice care.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Sioux Falls remembers Jan Nicolay, former Washington High principal