Terry Nienhuis

November 30, 2023
Terry  Nienhuis

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Terry Nienhuis was the son of Randall Nienhuis and Carole Veldman, both of Ottawa County (Grand Rapids), Michigan. He grew up loving books and baseball equally, but at some point the scale tipped in favor of literature. He got his undergraduate degree from Western Michigan University, becoming the first college graduate in his family, and was accepted into the PhD program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. UM became his alma mater in the full sense of the term: he loved his time there, he venerated his thesis director, and he decided that his future would be in academia.

In 1972 he  moved to Cullowhee, NC with his wife Nancy to teach as an assistant professor in the English Department at Western Carolina University. He was granted tenure in 1976. By then he and Nancy had split, and he had married his second wife, Jeanne, who was a secretary first in the history department and later to the dean of technology and applied science. Terry and Jeanne enjoyed weekend and vacation trips on their Honda 1100cc Goldwing touring motorcycle, venturing as far as Washington, DC, Florida, and the NC Outer Banks.

Terry was a passionate advocate for good teaching at the college level. In due course he attained the rank of full professor, and in 2002 he was given the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award, the highest distinction for teaching at WCU. For many years he also worked with ETS, the Educational Testing Service that administers the SAT and owns the GRE, to develop and grade essay questions on college admission tests. 

He loved the dramatic arts, not just theatrical literature but also dramatic production and acting in plays. At WCU he frequently participated in student and faculty shows, appearing in such varied productions as The Merchant of Venice (1979), The Foreigner (1987), The Laramie Project (2004), and The Tempest (2006). Off campus, he was active for many years in the Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre (SART) and the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre. 

He also acted in films, appearing in The Journey of August King (1995), What the Deaf Man Heard(1997), Dark Side of the Moon (1998), October Sky(1999), Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters’ First 100 Years (1999), The Water is Wide (2006), and Wesley (2009), among others.

By the time Terry retired from WCU in 2008, he and Jeanne had divorced. Opening himself up to new possibilities, Terry embarked on a different sort of teaching initiative: helping native Chinese speakers improve their English language skills in order to be more successful at pursuing American university degrees. It was in this endeavor that he met Bei Zhang, who owned an English language institute in Nanjing, China. Terry taught many of Bei’s students in Nanjing, and their partnership flourished. Many of their students were accepted by top universities in the US. In 2012, Bei came to the States and enrolled at the College of William & Mary for graduate studies. In 2014, Bei’s son Nick joined Bei and attended Jamestown High School. 2015 Terry and Bei got married. 

His interest in theatre undiminished by age, Terry appeared in productions of the Williamsburg Players, playing leading roles in On Golden Pond(2017) and Squabbles (2021). He also played the lead in Taking Leave, a 2019 production of the Peninsula Community Theatre.  

Terry is survived by his wife, Bei Zhang; their son, Nick; and Terry’s sister, Mary Nienhuis Ramos, who lives in Texas. He was preceded in death by his parents; his brother, Craig; his first wife, Nancy; and his second wife, Jeanne. 

In lieu of flowers, condolences may be expressed as donations to the Williamsburg Players (willliamsburgplayers.org) or to the  Williamsburg Regional Library (wrl.org).

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  • December 20, 2023
    Robert Oliver says:
    Dear Bei, John and I were so sorry to hear about Terry's recent passing. Please accept our condolences and expression of sympathy. Hugs, Sincerely yours, Bobby Oliver and John Frasca

  • December 12, 2023
    Clare Phelps says:
    My husband Malcolm Pruitt cares for very few people, so to hear so much about Terry Nienhuis over the years was proof to me that he was an amazing person. Terry was a great influence over my husband and shaped his life in ways that might not have been expressed verbally. I regret that I didn't get to meet him and that my husband didn't get to see him again after so many years. Please accept my condolences for your loss.

  • December 05, 2023
    Mary Triplette says:
    Terry and my husband, Ralph, had a shared love of baseball and baseball cards. Terry collected Detroit Tigers in particular and Ralph would always be on the lookout for any cards Terry needed. Just another example of the great variety of Terry's interests.

  • December 05, 2023
    Donna Gettings Apperson says:
    Loved working with Terry and seeing him at the pool either swimming or walking laps. As others mentioned, his laugh was something else! He'll be missed.

  • December 04, 2023
    Debbie Noonan says:
    I shared the stage with Terry and it was magical. He was loved by all who knew him.