by Jim Delahanty, D.M.D. ('75)
Fads come and go. Hair styles, lapel widths, and skirt lengths change with each generation. But the pursuit of excellence is timeless, and at New Jersey Dental School, a synonym for excellence is "Nicholas."
Colorful and congenial and yet at times curt and combative, Dr. William T. Nicholas ('66)a professor in the Department of Prosthodontics and Biomaterialshas educated NJDS students over the past three decades. He teaches pre-clinical and clinical fixed prosthodontics.
"Dr. Nicholas is tough, and he can be intimidating," says Dr. Jennifer Huether Marzarella ('99), "but you can't take it personally. When you work a clinical case with Dr. Nicholas, you know it will come out right the first time. He explains things to you, and if necessary, he will sit down and pick up the handpiece to be sure you know how it should be done. He will always go the extra mile with you." That extra mile has taken Dr. Nicholas twice to receive the Foundation of UMDNJ's Excellence in Teaching Award.
Dr. Nicholas's path toward a dental career had some twists and turns along the way. The Nicholas family owned a furrier business when he was growing up, but his father always stressed the importance of an education. "My father pushed me toward a professional career. The clothier business was cutthroat," explains Dr. Nicholas. He received a bachelor's degree in 1955 from New York University and was drafted in 1956. Dr. Nicholas spent two years in the U.S. Army Medical Corps before beginning graduate work at NYU in biochemistry with the intention of earning a master's or doctorate degree. "But I decided this wasn't for me," he says. "I wanted a little more control over my destiny."
In 1962, Dr. Nicholas entered Seton Hall College of Dentistry, where he distinguished himself and was true to his pursuit of excellence. He was presented with five senior awards upon graduation, including being elected an alumni member of Omicron Kappa Upsilon, the national dental honor society.
"I believe Billy was the finest student that ever went through Seton Hall," explains Dr. James Ruggiero ('66), classmate, friend, and dentist to the Nicholas family. "His work ethic is uncompromising, his dentistry is excellent, and his dedication is unwavering."
Upon graduation in 1966, Dr. Frank E. Frates Jr., hired Dr. Nicholas as a part-time faculty member in the Department of Restorative Dentistry. "I remember that even as a freshman, there was something special about Bill Nicholas," recalls the Coach. "He had beautiful hands. His thoroughness and attention to detail brought a smile to my face."
Dr. Nicholas juggled private practice and teaching for 18 years. In 1984 he took a full-time appointment in the Department of Prosthodontics and Biomaterials, but also maintained his North Bergen private practice by working evenings and weekends. Fifteen years later, he still holds to a standard of excellence at NJDS that has been uncompromising. "If I were a dean of a dental school, I would want at least one clone of Bill Nicholas on my faculty," says Dr. Patrick Quaranta (D'72), associate professor of Oral Pathology, Biology and Diagnostic Sciences. "His attitude toward discipline and his pride in his profession are truly remarkable."
There are some who may not agree with Dr. Nicholas's style. "He can be rude and belligerenta General George Patton of dentistry," says Dr. Raymond Rossi ('84). "However, some excellent dentists have benefited from his tutelage. If he felt you were giving your best effort, Bill Nicholas would work with you tirelessly. But you would certainly rue the day if you attempted any short cuts."
Dr. Nicholas semi-retired in 1998. He has given up private practice and has returned to part-time faculty status. "I now have time for some of my other interests, like fishing, gardening, golf, and playing with my grandson, Vasilios," says Dr. Nicholas, himself the father of four sons. "I have been fortunate. I have had a successful career, I have a great family, and I have a wonderful wife, Helen, to whom I have been married for 37 years."
"When I was in practice I was proud to be able to provide quality dentistry to my patients. I try to pass this same ethic along to each student I work with. You will never be embarrassed or have to explain yourself when you provide quality treatment to your patients."
Many things have changed in dentistry in the last 30 years, but the pursuit of excellence has not gone out of style for Dr. Nicholas.