Eulogy for a Dad … and a Teacher

My dad, Jim Newquist, passed away on Dec. 22, 2023. My sister and I gave this eulogy at his memorial service on January 13, 2024. Sections in italics were spoken by my sister.

Our dad taught elementary and middle school students for his entire career.

Growing up with our dad as a teacher taught my sister and I so many things. At his memorial service, it seems only right to share some of them.

When your dad is a teacher, the summers are endless.

Weeks spent helping at 4-H camp in Stokes State Forest or Beemerville.

Days spent making new friends, hiking streams, and building model rockets at the YMCA’s Camp Y’Not.

Months spent helping Dad as he ran various summer recreation programs for Mount Olive township (and yes, building even more rockets).

Hours at home, playing in the pool, or having paper airplane competitions while Dad worked in the garden (which yielded more zucchini and green beans than anyone one family could eat in any one summer even an endless one).

And when summer threatened to end (even though it shouldn’t), venturing to the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show (you may know it as the New Jersey State Fair) to compete in 4-H competitions, play games, and learn why our parents should vote for John B. Anderson in 1980 instead of Ronald Reagan.

When your dad is a teacher, you get drafted into things you never thought you’d do.

Like heading to Sandy Hook. Not to go to the ocean – no, other parents did that (Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Robinson!). We went to the bay side of the peninsula, where we used seine nets to capture small fish, mollusks, starfish, and anything else we could find. Dad would then catalog our finds, preserve them in alcohol, and use them to teach one of his many classes.

Like picking up worms off the driveway after a heavy rain … for science! (And fishing!)

Like growing mealworms (we knew which containers to avoid in the refrigerator) to feed turtles and other classroom critters.

Like building nature trails behind an elementary school.

Like teaching other kids how to build model rockets, and doing it so often that at 52, you still have the muscle memory of how to best glue rocket fins to body tubes.

Like launching some of those model rockets in downtown Trenton as part of National Space Week.

Like stopping on Corey Road in Flanders to pick up a perfectly good fish tank that someone had put out in the trash.

Like pulling over quickly on The Bumpy Road (an aptly nicknamed back road that led to our house) to load abandoned piles of “perfectly good firewood” for our wood stove at home, or myriad animal carcasses to share with his students.

There’s nothing like the look on your Mom’s face when your dog comes running across the lawn with a deer femur that Dad thought he hid well among the evergreens…

Like helping your dad grade papers under the grape arbor while sipping lemonade and eating mom’s zucchini bread.

Like picking bushels of wild raspberries from various locations around Mt. Olive.

Like helping teach an environmental science class at your elementary school, and being forever known as the kids whose dad has Bambi in a jar.

Like raising a Seeing Eye puppy … and then giving it up so it can go help someone else.

When your dad is a teacher, he will never, ever throw anything away because there is always a chance he could use it next year.

Stuff like:

  • A box of test tubes.
  • Shelves of model rockets.
  • Lesson plans from 1971.
  • Graded assignments from 1983.
  • 30 boxed sets of the “Physics of Paper Airplanes” (complete with paper and instructions for building your own model airplanes.
  • Balloon science.
  • Dozens of styrofoam cups with the bottoms missing (we don’t know why).
  • A fish tank.

And if you might need one fish tank, you might as well have a dozen. After all, you can’t spend a summer setting up terrariums, pond biomes, and dioramas for your classrooms if you don’t have fish tanks.

Side note – if anyone needs a fish tank, see us after the service.

When your dad is a teacher, he’ll teach you how to fail. Repeatedly. And sometimes, spectacularly.

Our dad has a NASA jacket like the one I’m wearing (a jacket covered in NASA patches from Apollo and the Space Shuttle programs). On the right sleeve is a triangular patch with what looks like a crooked J on it.

It’s called a Prangler patch, and that crooked J represents a straight and true rocket that had an unfortunate encounter with Planet Earth.

I love that patch. My dad and I had a lot of Pranglers … rockets that veered sideways after launch, gliders that fell rather then flew, ejection charges that went off only after the rocket crashed into the ground, and so, so many rockets lost to trees.

And we had Pranglers that weren’t rockets.

Like that time our dad was painting our house. He needed to get to the very top of the house, but the ladder wasn’t long enough. So he put it on the tailgate of his pick-up truck.

However, because he didn’t want to get paint on the truck, he put down a plastic sheet on the bed, and then put the ladder on that.

This worked fine until he got to the top of the ladder … and the plastic slipped, the ladder slipped, and my dad rode it down to the ground.

And there’s the time that I tried to teach our Dad how to use the Nordic Track at the YMCA and he ended up with fractured ribs after a not-so-graceful dismount from the machine.

Yes, there’s a very good reason why National Lampoon Christmas Vacation is a favorite holiday movie in our house.

But failure is a great teacher. Whether it’s building model rockets, teaching 8th graders, or fishing for flounder off a pear in Point Pleasant for hours without catching anything, when you fail, you learn something.

Oh, and if you can’t catch a fish, just give Kristen the rod. She’ll catch two in 15 minutes.

When your dad is a teacher, he’ll show you the value of volunteering with your community.

Our dad loved science, and he loved teaching. He constantly sought new ways to share that passion and often did so through volunteering.

Our family raised three puppies as part of a partnership between 4-H and the Seeing Eye. As an adult, my family raised six more. Our seventh is here today – his name is Chip.

Dad led my 4-H Rocketry Clubs as a kid. He was my Webelos den leader in Cub Scouts and ensured that I earned all 15 Webelos pins … whether I wanted to or not.

With our mom, he volunteered at the Noah’s Ark Animal Shelter (yeah, our family loves dogs).

For many years, he volunteered for the Flanders Volunteer Fire Department and Ambulance Squad. Anyone who has lived with a plectron in the house knows that this is a family commitment and is not for the faint of heart. There were times when emergencies rolled in all night long and we would not see Dad for hours on end.

He spent decades volunteering for 4-H. His many roles included:

  • Board of Directors Vice President for the 4-H Association
  • Morris County’s’ liaison to the NJ 4-H Association
  • A judge at 4-H Public Presentations
  • A judge at the Morris County 4-H Fair in the woodworking and science divisions.
  • A workshop presenter at 4-H Science-sational Days
  • 4-H coordinator for the spring and fall Clover Campaigns at Tractor Supply

And then there were the bluebirds.

Dad loved bluebirds. He was vice president of the New Jersey Bluebird Association and built – and installed – dozens, maybe hundreds? – of bluebird houses throughout New Jersey. It’s entirely fitting that a bluebird house serves as the centerpiece of this ceremony.

Our dad was a teacher. He taught us so many things, intentionally and unintentionally.

He showed his kindness in his own special ways like how he’d go out of his way to make sure that my eyeglasses were clean, the windshield wiper fluid (aka “squirt”) was filled in my car, and that my dinner plate had several slices of his prized tomatoes, lightly salted of course, from his garden (he and I were the only tomato lovers in the family).

He was a unique man whose energy and passion for his numerous interests were unlike any of the other dads that I knew, and I am proud of the impact that he had on so many.

He’s gone now, but his many, many lessons remain. We’re glad we had the chance to learn them.


In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Jim’s name to the Lance Corporal Andrew Lubrano 4-H Memorial Scholarship of Morris County 4-H. Donations are accepted via Paypal, online via the Support 4-H website, or via mail at Morris County 4-H, Attn. Lubrano Scholarship, P.O. Box 900, Morristown, NJ 07963-0900. 

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The centerpiece at my father’s memorial service. My wife made the wreath. My dad made the bluebird house, which held his ashes at the service. Credit: Ken Newquist.

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