Had it not been for Alice Nichols, Ball State University alumnus John Surovek would remember 1968 as the year he dropped out of college—not the year he graduated.
"My father got ill that spring, and she knew I was going to leave school to care for him," Surovek said.
Nichols, former chair of the university's art department began teaching at Ball State in 1947. Surovek said she delayed her retirement from the art department in 1968 to lead him in an independent study course that enabled him to earn his degree.
Now an art dealer in Palm Beach, Florida, Surovek "owes everything" to Nichols' involvement in his college career.
To honor her, Surovek commissioned artist Tuck Langland to sculpt a portrait of the late educator. It's located at the Tower Plaza Entrance to Ball State's Fine Arts Building off Riverside Avenue. The David Owsley Museum of Art is located inside the building. Nichols helped the museum receive formal accreditation in 1972, the year she retired.
An educator in a time when women were the minority of professionals on a college campus, Nichols stood out from the crowd, Surovek said.
"You just had to know her," he said. "She smoked a pipe, had a flattop haircut, wore jeans, we both drove MG-B sports cars . . . there wasn't anyone else out there like her.
"I've lectured at many colleges and universities, and I've always said all can be good schools—all you need is one Dr. Nichols, one professor who ignites something within you. I was lucky to have that click for me with her."