Please remember in your prayers Henry Nachtsheim ’40, who starred in basketball at St. Thomas, taught chemistry and coached basketball here before becoming a successful chemist at 3M.
Nachtsheim, one of the oldest living St. Thomas alumni, died Monday in St. Paul, said his son Steve, a 1967 alumnus and a member of the St. Thomas Board of Trustees. He was 97.
“Dad loved St. Thomas,” his son said. “It was that simple. He was part of the school for more than 80 years. It was a beautiful relationship.”
Born June 19, 1918, Nachtsheim attended St. John’s Catholic School on the East Side of St. Paul before taking streetcars to St. Thomas Academy, then on the college campus, for high school classes beginning in 1932.
By his senior year he was captain of both the basketball team, playing guard, and the corps of cadets. Among his many honors was winning a writing contest for an essay he wrote on the personal benefits he derived from his military education.
Nachtsheim enrolled in the college in the fall of 1936. He played basketball for three years in the Armory (on the site now occupied by Schoenecker Arena) and for one year in the new O’Shaughnessy Hall (razed in 2009 to make way for the new Anderson Student Center). He was president of his junior and senior classes and an honors student.
“Henry got a perfect score on one test,” his son recalled, “and his professor didn’t think that was possible.” During a hearing to determine whether he had cheated, the student said, “I have a very good memory,” and to prove it “he recited the first 21 pages of the book on which the test was based,” his son said. “They let him off.”
After graduation in 1940, Nachtsheim earned a master’s degree in chemistry from Indiana University. Commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Reserve, he reported for duty two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and married Ruth O’Donnell, a St. Catherine student.
He returned to St. Thomas in 1946 to teach chemistry and later was an assistant basketball coach. The Nachtsheim family, which grew to include four children, lived from 1946 to 1951 in Tom Town, an on-campus community of 20 huts on Cleveland Avenue for married veterans and their families. The huts were removed in the 1950s to make way for O’Shaughnessy Library.
“We lived in Unit 9A of Tom Town,” Steve Nachtsheim said. “Gene McCarthy (then a sociology professor who later served 22 years in Congress and ran for president in 1968) lived across the sidewalk from us.”
The elder Nachtsheim left St. Thomas in 1953 to work as a chemist in the tape products laboratory at 3M. He obtained a patent for the backing on “magic mending tape,” his son said, and supervised work in a medical products research and development laboratory. He retired in the early 1980s but 3M hired him back as a consultant and he worked into his early 90s, reviewing patents of competitors’ products.
“He was always on the road – the chemist who went to meetings of dentists and others to explain how products worked,” his son said. “He always carried a big brown briefcase with him, and wherever he stopped he would open it and have all of his patents paperwork there to read.”
After leaving Tom Town, the Nachtsheims bought a house on Dayton Avenue east of campus to raise their family. Ruth died in 1999 and Henry continued to live there before moving to senior citizen housing several years ago.
During halftime of a men’s basketball game in February 2012, St. Thomas named the scoreboard in Schoenecker Arena after its former star. Nachtsheim was present for the ceremony, standing at midcourt with his four children and doffing his St. Thomas cap to the cheers of the crowd.
In addition to Steve, survivors include a son, Chris, a 1973 St. Thomas alumnus; two daughters, Frances and Mary; four grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
A Mass of Christian Burial was at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Mark Catholic Church, 2001 Dayton Ave., St. Paul. Visitation was from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday at O’Halloran & Murphy Funeral Home, 575 S. Snelling Ave., St. Paul, and at the church an hour before the funeral.