Students mourn loss of beloved instructor

Faith Gates, Managing/News Editor

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Nick Anast gives a demonstration during the 2014 Day Under The Oaks at the SRJC.

JoshuOne Barnes/ Oak Leaf
Nick Anast gives a demonstration during the 2014 Day Under The Oaks at the SRJC.

Beloved Santa Rosa Junior College life sciences instructor Nick Anast devoted his life to teaching his students to use compassion to treat the person and not the condition. Anast died during a kayaking accident in Tomales Bay March 18.

Anast, 55, grew up in Southern California; he attended SRJC before transferring to Sonoma State University and then UC Berkeley. He taught at Casa Grande High School and Napa Valley College before coming to SRJC in 2005. He was a fourth-degree black belt after doing Aikido for almost 30 years and loved to travel the world.

Anast is survived by his 9-year-old son Cooper.

“He was the most loving, accepting person I’ve ever met in my life,” said SRJC student Michael Moore, who took Anast’s class last semester.

“He was the absolute best teacher I’ve ever had in my life. Everyone that was in his class became better people because of it,” Moore said.

Marin County Sheriff’s Lt. Doug Pittman said Anast, an avid outdoorsman, was kayaking with a friend when he fell into the water in Tomales Bay in Marin County.

Efforts to pull Anast from the water were unsuccessful. A news helicopter spotted Anast in the water at around 6 p.m. He was dead when the Coast Guard reached him.

“Nick gave his whole heart in his teachings,” said SRJC student Kellee Ziegler, who had Anast as her physiology instructor. “This was his true passion. He was inspiring, uplifting and he lived what he taught. He was a free spirit that loved life.”

Ziegler said she will be forever thankful to Anast and her heart goes out to his family.

“I had never met a teacher who was so impassioned, so energetic, so hilarious, and yet, could be all of these things while teaching a complex and vast subject,” said SRJC pre-nursing student Rebecca Hildebrant. “Nevertheless, he embodied all of these great characteristics, and he pulled it off seemingly effortlessly.”

Dawn Michelle Tucker, a nursing student in her last year in the program, said she and her classmates posted on social media to comfort each other after finding out about the loss. Tucker said they are sad, devastated and shocked about losing Anast, whom she called an awesome person.

“His passion and curiosity for the natural world was totally inspiring and infectious,” Tucker said. “He worked tirelessly to lead his students through some of the toughest classes at the JC with compassion and determination.”

That sentiment was echoed by dozens of former students on the website ratemyprofessor.com, a site where students can compare notes about their teachers. Comments like “He was the best teacher I ever had,” “most amazing” and “life-changing,” affirm how popular the instructor was and how sorely he will be missed.

Hildebrant took Anast’s Human Physiology class last semester and kept in contact with him ever since. Hildebrant was able to take a trip to the Dominican Republic to work at a clinic and Anast donated money for her trip because of his love for traveling the world. She met with him March 16, only two days before he died.

“When we finally wrapped up our conversation about my upcoming trip, I added, ‘In case I die, you were an awesome teacher and a great friend, Nick,’ I called to him. I could hear him laughing as the door clicked shut behind me. I chuckled to myself as I walked to my car,” Hildebrant said. “Little did I know that would be the last time I would see him.”

While in the Dominican Republic, Hildebrant was thrilled to use what Anast taught her.

“Nick had also taught us about the power of love, of touch and of their roles in healing. I made sure to include that while I was there,” Hildebrant said. “I thought of Nick’s lessons to us when I did this, and my eyes welled up more than once when I remembered I’d never get to share what I’d done with him.”

Anast was teaching Biology 2.2 this semester and Susan Wilson has taken over his class.

SRJC student Taylor Buffo was in Anast’s class this semester. She said Anast boosted her confidence to continue nursing.

“A couple days into spring break I wanted to go to class because I missed him. I was driving in the car when I heard the news and my heart dropped,” she said. “We came back to class and you could just feel the mood. It’s been a really difficult transition.”

Upon returning from spring break, counselors were brought into class to talk about the situation. Buffo said there were a lot of tears.

Moore and Buffo both said an hour into Anast’s class, he would have everyone get up and stretch. He would tell everyone to send out good energy to those around. Moore said Anast would tell the class he would be sending out good energy to them that night and to look for it.

“He just loved everybody,” Moore said. Buffo echoed saying she felt his vibe, that he loved life and had love for others.

SRJC student Erin Lydia organized a memorial beach bonfire gathering honoring Anast March 21 on Limantour Beach in Point Reyes. SRJC will hold a celebration of Nick Anast’s life April 26 at 11 a.m. on the Burbank/Analy lawn.

“He was an awesome, awesome guy, and life is fragile,” Tucker said.

Grief counselors are on hand to help students and faculty mourning the loss of the inspirational instructor.

The 17-foot tall giraffe skeleton, “Fresno,”  in the SRJC Mahoney library in Petaluma will forever be a reminder of Anast as he took an entire summer to clean and assemble it before donating it to SRJC.

“The saddest part was that so many students will miss out on his class,” Moore said.

Hildebrant once asked Anast why we miss people when they die, to which he responded, “People aren’t just bodies. I believe they are spirits too, and I think we are forgetting about the role that love plays in this whole scenario. That can’t be underestimated.”

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