A friend and colleague of mine, Jerry Nachtigal, passed away on Easter Sunday from cancer. Jerry was Sr. Vice President of Public Affairs at Citibank and was committed to making Sioux Falls a better place to live. He was only 57 years old. It’s a huge loss for his wife and kids, his friends, co-workers and all of Sioux Falls.
I got to know Jerry while working together to fundraise for a community indoor tennis center. When Jerry joined our team, we breathed a collective a sigh of relief and knew that we would be successful with his help. After this campaign ended, I interacted with Jerry many times about my effort to bring a place for out-of-town cancer patients to stay to Sioux Falls. He was an important source of advice, encouragement and support. He wanted to be a part of our effort in the future.
While I wasn’t part of Jerry’s inner circle, he meant a great deal to me. As I’ve been thinking about him the last few days, I realize that I learned a lot from him. Here are some of the things that Jerry taught me:
- Give a nervous person a big hug. Last December, I was giving an important presentation to an important committee. In some ways, it was a make-or-break event and I was painfully nervous. As I stood at the front of the room, waiting for things to begin, Jerry breezed in at the last minute, saw me and gave me a big hug and a wide smile. He was recovering from chemo and his hair was starting to grow in. He looked good. It was one of the warmest greetings I’ve ever received and his timing was perfect.
- Take the high road. In the fundraising world, there are many accomplishments as well as some disappointments. I remember that after courting a major donor for several years, the donor had decided to not make a gift of any size. As we discussed this surprising turn of events, Jerry took it in stride and said something respectful about the donor. We were all disappointed, but Jerry found a way to acknowledge the setback, set it aside and helped us all move on with a good attitude.
- Be open about your challenges. Jerry was open about his cancer. The presentation last December was about Hope Lodge, a place where out-of-town cancer patients can stay while receiving treatment. During introductions, Jerry gave the room an alive smile and began his by saying, “I’m the cancer survivor in this room…” Most of us knew he had cancer. But by being open about his condition, it helped us all. We could relax and acknowledge that the topic we were going to be discussing (cancer) was affecting one of our own.
- Keep your sense of humor. A consultant friend and I had lunch with Jerry last year, days before he was going to have surgery to remove a blockage in his kidney. At this time, nobody knew that the blockage was cancer. As he got up to leave the restaurant booth, he winced in pain and said something about getting old was not easy. We chuckled about it and told him that he wasn’t old. None of us knew that he was about to embark on a hard journey.
- Help, if you can. Last Fall, I asked Jerry to be part of the leadership team for Hope Lodge. He asked a lot of insightful questions; he wasn’t going to jump into a project blindly. A few days later, he sent an email that started out, “Of course, I’m in.” Of course he was. That was Jerry – willing to help whenever and however possible, if he could.
Jerry was a prince of a man. I was on the periphery of his life and he still made a big impact on me. In fact, this week, when faced with a couple of different challenges, the first thing I thought of was, “What would Jerry do?” Asking that question made it easy to know how to respond. Jerry would take it in stride and handle it with kindness and humor.
I want to be like Jerry. I think we all do.
May he rest in peace. And may his wife, kids, family and friends find some comfort during their grieving. It’s a heartbreaking loss.
Thank you, Jerry.