“Beyond all that sort of technical information, what is equally as important is love, compassion [and] empathy. Can you project that into the world? Is that something we do? Could you feel love from across the room from somebody? I think we can. I think we can project our love across the country. I think we could project our love across the world if it’s strong enough. So, start practicing; practice a way of love and harmonizing.”
Those were the words of Nick Anast, a highly-esteemed life science professor at Santa Rosa Junior College. A recording of this particular lecture can be found on SoundCloud, courtesy of a former student, Morgen Sturgis.
The 55-year-old instructor fell victim to the unforgiving waters of Tomales Bay while kayaking with a friend on March 18. His wife and 9-year-old son are left grieving.
Anast was swept away by the water, while his friend was able to escape to safety. By the time the Coast Guard was able to rescue him, it was too late. He was pronounced dead due to hypothermia at approximately 6 p.m.
Those fortunate enough to have known Anast were distraught by the death of a man who served as an inspiration to many.
“I think [Anast] has taught me many things beyond the realm of science,” said Duc Pham, a former student of Anast’s and a current biology major at Cornell University. “Even though he is gone, he will continue to set an example of a great teacher and a man of integrity, empathy and compassion. He came to my lecture at Santa Rosa Junior College last spring, shook my hand and patted me on the back. That meant everything to me.”
Brennan Chin, a Sonoma State University biology graduate student, reflected on a professor who inspired him to be an equally as compassionate and profound instructor, although his class was impressively demanding and difficult.
“He taught us how to be better people and how to take care of our bodies,” Chin said. “Love, excitement and passion were always visible in his eyes and smile and were heard in his voice. Everyone Nick worked with, from students to staff, he truly loved. He was a unique teacher and will be deeply missed at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Anast went out of his way on a daily basis to enrich the lives of everyone around him. His students describe him as someone who created an unforgettable classroom experience, and his colleagues saw him as a man one could count on in hundreds of ways.
Susan Wilson is the chair of the life sciences department at Santa Rosa Junior College. She said she is devastated by the death of the man she worked with closely for the past 10 years.
She described how he had a unique ability to distinguish between real teachers and those with fancy degrees, and urged the faculty to hire the most genuine educators that would make positive impacts on students and serve them well.
Anast was the prime example of all the amazing qualities he preached about and hoped to instill in the people in his life.
“When someone pays attention and notices exactly what you are doing and that it took some effort and skill, and acknowledges that, it is a wonderful gift,” said Wilson. “Nick gave that gift freely to many people, it was part of his practice.”
Hundreds of people have joined a Facebook group created in order to honor Anast and the exceptional life he led. Members of the group are currently organizing a dedication to their beloved teacher, colleague, and friend, on May 16 at 7 p.m. with the location to be decided.
In addition, per Nick Anast Memorial Page, "A celebration of Nick Anast's life will be held on SRJC's Santa Rosa campus Sunday, April 26, 2015 at 11am on the Burbank/Analy lawn in front of the outdoor stage where graduation is held each year. The public is invited to attend. A beloved Life Sciences instructor, Nick died in a kayaking accident on Tomales Bay on March 18. People are encouraged to bring blankets and/or yoga mats and sit on the lawn during the brief program. A potluck reception will be held immediately after the program in the Baker Hall lawn area (between Baker Hall, Shuhaw Hall and Bech Hall). People may drop food off beginning at 10am in room 1849, Baker Hall."
For anyone hoping to help the Anast family alleviate the financial burden of the unexpected death, donations will be accepted through Nick Anast’s GoFundMe page.
For more information regarding the event, students and community members are encouraged to visit facebook.com/nickanastmemorial.
Erin Sevde, coordinator of his memorial, is selling bracelets in honor of Anast. The proceeds of the bracelet sales are going toward a scholarship fund for Anast’s son and bracelets can be purchased by emailing Sevde at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclosure: Brennan Chin is the marketing & design director for the Sonoma State STAR.