Melvin Gilbert Nuckols was born November 16, 1929 to Joseph Franklin Nuckols, Sr. and Ruth Elizabeth Gilbert Nuckols in the Kempsville area of Tidewater, VA in what is now Virginia Beach, the third of three children after siblings Liz and Frank. He left high school to join the army at seventeen and was eventually stationed in the Philippines, where he worked mainly on mechanics and truck repair. After an officer told him that upon completing his enlistment he should, “Finish your education, son,” he did just that, graduating from Kempsville High School in 1949 and enrolling at Virginia Tech, where he studied agriculture on the G.I. Bill. He was recalled for service during the Korean War and stationed in Germany. He returned to Virginia Tech, graduating with a B.A. in Agricultural Education in 1955.
The son of a farmer, he next taught agriculture and shop at Atlantic High School on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. It was there that he met his wife of 63 years, Bettie Anne Blades.
Once the Space Race began, following the launch of the USSR’s Sputnik satellite, Mel Nuckols did a further service to his country by requalifying to teach science, which he did at Parksley and Arcadia High Schools, focusing primarily on chemistry and physics. He retired in 1988 with a total of 30 years of service to the Accomack County Public Schools. His students went on to work in various STEM professions, one even studying chemistry at MIT. Even those who didn’t enter technical fields enjoyed his easy-going manner and way of including everyone in classroom discussions. He often related scientific concepts to everyday things and did fun demonstrations, like wiggling a Slinky stretched across the floor to show the shape and movement of light waves, sound waves, etc.
Shortly before and after retirement, he also taught part-time at the Eastern Shore Community College (ESCC) in Melfa, VA, where he led a chemistry course for students entering the nursing field. Ever committed to the sciences, he volunteered for Long-term Ecological Research in the 1990s, taking water samples from inlets of the Chesapeake Bay and recording their chemical qualities as part of an Eastern-Shore-wide effort.
His and Bettie’s only child, Mark Eliot, was born in 1966. Shortly after that major life event, he spent fifteen months with his family in Charlottesville earning an M.A.in education, with an emphasis on science. He related his love of learning to his son Mark, who went on to major in English at UVA and eventually earned a Ph.D. in Slavic languages at Ohio State. Although Mel favored his alma mater Tech, he was never “conflicted” over being the father of a Wahoo – or the fact that he himself was an alumnus of both VPI and UVA.
He also saw no conflict between faith and science: he taught Sunday school at Parksley Baptist Church and Bethel UMC (Jamesville) for roughly five decades.
For practically all his life, he enjoyed activities such as boating, fishing, swimming, biking and jogging, and later became a regular in the Seaside Half-Marathon and Crystal Beach Triathlon. After retiring, he often spent Fridays working at a friend’s farm, garage and sawmill, and other days working on his own tractor, ’54 Chevy pickup and ’67 VW Beetle. He taught a “55 Alive” driving safety course for seniors for AARP and tutored for the Eastern Shore Literacy Council. Dating from the 1970s, he was a charter member of the Accomack County Kiwanis Club, which he also served as secretary and treasurer.
He passed away peacefully March 16 at his home near Silver Beach with wife Bettie and son Mark at his side. His is survived by niece Ruth (Nuckols) Spangler and her children, nephew Michael H. Nuckols and family, sister-in-law Wanda H. Nuckols (his brother Joseph Franklin, Jr. predeceased him by three weeks), brother-in-law Dewey E. Blades and his wife Connie (Turner), and their children (Mel’s nephews and niece) Phillip, Joe, Gary and Carolyn. His legacy will also be carried on by countless students.
Funeral services will be conducted Monday, March 21, 2022 at 1:00PM at Bethel United Methodist Church with Reverends Paul Oh and Judy Worthington officiating. Interment will follow in Parksley Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Eastern Shore Public Library, PO Box 25, Parksley, VA 23421.
Online condolences may be sent to the family at www.doughtyfuneralhome.com
Arrangements were made by Doughty Funeral Home in Exmore, Virginia.