Small Appliances Technician Celebrates Retirement After Half a Century with Trinity University

Bookmark and Share

Jul. 25, 2013

Small Appliances Technician Celebrates Retirement After Half a Century with Trinity University

Tom Nixon leaves behind a legacy of hard work, expertise, and an ability to fix anything

By Molly Mohr

Tom Nixon

Tom Nixon prepares to cut a cake honoring his retirement after working 50 years at Trinity.

SAN ANTONIO - Amidst a loud, lively atmosphere in the Trinity University Skyline Room, Tom Nixon, at 92 years young, joked with his colleagues: "The only way to be a celebrity around here is to get old like me!"

Still proudly suited up in his khaki-colored work uniform, Nixon greeted people at his retirement celebration held in mid-July. The room was packed full of friends and family Nixon had impacted since beginning work with Facilities Services in 1963. Addressing his peers, an emotional Nixon said, "I couldn't have worked at a nicer place."

One by one, colleagues shared their parting thoughts with Nixon. "Tom has meant so much to everyone on campus," said Mike Schweitzer, director of Facilities Services, adding, "He has touched the souls of everybody in this room."

Genie Calgaard, wife of former Trinity University President Ron Calgaard, said Nixon has "been an example for everybody on this campus."

Part of the legacy Nixon leaves behind, and one of the traits he is most known for, is his unique ability to salvage old machine parts for re-use. "Tom is known to use parts from vintage machines and adapt them to work on new technology," explained Jim Baker, associate director of Facilities Services.

Nixon obtained his waste-not mentality in World War II, said daughter Barbara Nixon-Ernst, one of his three children. During the war, Nixon served as a staff sergeant and head mechanic of Marine Bombing Squadron 611, leading the repairs of aircraft, helicopters, trucks, and other machines that were essential for their missions. Without many resources overseas, Nixon used whatever he could find for repairs. "There was a lot of junk, but I used fix all of their airplanes. I put all the planes together and kept them flying," he said.

Tom Nixon past photos

Top: Sergeant Fred P. Ratliff, Staff Sergeant Thomas A. Nixon (middle), and Sergeant Nathan D. Hotaling; Bottom: Nixon sits behind the wheel of a Japanese truck that was salvaged and restored to running condition.

Nixon's ability to use almost anything for repairs carried over into his time at Trinity. Biology professor Robert Blystone described one of many times Nixon fixed a seemingly hopeless machine. "In 1981, the oil diffusion pump on Trinity University's Hitachi HS-8 electron microscope was having problems."  After two visits from Hitachi service engineers, they "made a suggestion: perhaps we should replace the 13-year old microscope." Instead, Blystone called Nixon, who then "came over to Cowles Life Science Building and studied the vacuum pump." Nixon returned a few days later, having fixed the microscope with simply some copper tubing. After another visit with Hitachi service engineers, it turned out he had actually repaired a design defect in the microscope!

Nixon's seemingly endless skills don't come as a surprise to his peers, though. "Tom is a very knowledgeable person from all phases of repairs and maintenance," explained Rey Sepulveda, who worked alongside Nixon since 1980. "I am very fortunate to have learned from the best."

In addition to repairing electron microscopes, Nixon spent his 50 years with Trinity servicing buildings all over campus. One of his first projects was configuring the air conditioning for the bowling alley in the Bell Athletic Center, formerly known as Earl C. Sam's Memorial Athletic Center. Nixon attended to the eight-lane attraction, which is now replaced by the Stumberg Fitness Center, for 25 years. He also handled refrigeration, air conditioning, and heating for homes and apartment buildings owned by Trinity, maintained kitchen equipment in Mabee Dining Hall and Coates University Center, and installed solar panels on top of Bell Athletic Center. Nixon retired as a small appliances technician, repairing "all the equipment that requires constant attention," according to Baker, such as water coolers, air compressors, and ice makers.

"Despite his age, Tom was always the first to clock in in the morning and the last to clock out in the afternoon," said Dee Dinscore, an inspections supervisor who joined Facilities Services in 1996. "He's a great guy, and he was always willing to help anybody. We can all learn something from him."

Molly Mohr is a junior at Rice University and works in the Office of University Communications. Originally from San Antonio, she is pursuing a major in sport management and a minor in business.