Constable David Nicholson lived and died for others.
In the early evening of August 12, Mark Gage was swimming with friends in the Grandhill River near his home in Cambridge, Ontario. The 12-year-old jumped into the water off Parkhill Dam, but never resurfaced. Mark was an excellent swimmer, so at first his friends thought he was just playing a trick on them. But when Mark did not turn up at home, emergency rescue teams were summoned.
The first diver into the water was David Nicholson, a graduate of Huntington College (now Huntington University).
After completing his psychology degree, David had pursued a lifelong career interest in law enforcement. He had joined Ontario’s Waterloo Regional Police Force in 1989 and later became certified for underwater-rescue diving.
Dave cautiously searched for Mark near the base of the dam. Several underwater openings, or sluices, let water flow downstream with tremendous force. In the twilight, Dave used an underwater light to search for the boy.
After a few minutes, Dave gave three tugs on his safety line, a pre-arranged signal that he had found Mark’s body.
Moments later, a second tragedy—there was a strong pull from Dave’s safety lines as he, too, was pulled into the sluice. Instantly, Dave’s fellow officers tried to pull him from the fast-flowing water. Passersby who had gathered to watch the rescue joined their efforts. Sadly, Dave had become so firmly wedged by the high-pressure stream that his safety line snapped.
It was three days before bodies of the two victims could be recovered. Engineers used heavy equipment to divert the river’s flow. Shortly after 3 a.m. on August 15, another police diver freed the dead from the dam. It was discovered that in his final moments, Dave Nicholson had embraced the body of Mark Gage in a protective bear-hug. Five thousand police officers from across North America joined Dave Nicholson’s family and friends at the funeral service the following Wednesday.
United in grief, they marched in procession as Dave’s casket was carried by gun carriage from the Kitchener Gospel Temple to Woodlawn Cemetery.
Thousands more lined the streets along the route. David Nicholson is survived by his wife, Wendy (Burk), and three young children: Mitchel (9), Reid (7), and Joshua (3).
“Dave was an excellent father,” Pastor John Pearce said at the funeral. “He had a perfect blend of love, affection and firmness.” Pearce is the Nicholson family’s pastor at Stanley Park United Brethren Church. Throughout those tragic days in August, he used email to keep United Brethren church members and Huntington College alumni informed of events and united in prayer for the Nicholsons.
At Huntington College, one of Dave and Wendy’s longtime family friends, Josh Kesler, now coaches the men’s soccer team, on which Dave once played. At Homecoming this year, the Foresters held the Canadian flag, listened to the Canadian national anthem, and observed a moment of silence. The team has decided to dedicate its annual alumni game at Homecoming to Dave Nicholson’s memory.
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