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From boxing to books

Midlife can trigger a career change.

And when Perry S. Nicholas -- a former boxer who also worked in construction, -- hit 50, he decided to go for a lifelong goal of becoming a full-time teacher.

The once-amateur middleweight contender knocks 'em out with his poetry, having been nominated for a 2007 Pushcart Prize.

"I've taken a somewhat strange route," concedes the Erie Community College professor. "I'm not your typical academic, by any means.

"It's impossible for anyone to determine why they followed a certain path in life, how it might have changed had they followed the other fork in the wood, as Robert Frost suggests.

"For me, life's been a combination of my Buffalo West Side childhood, Greek-American upbringing, various passions such as amateur boxing, literature and the circuitous route of working in the construction world."

From age 20 to 30, Nicholas boxed, and today he testifies in his lyrics to "slicing the air with straight rights, the crack of a perfect crisp jab."

This poetic professor is also co-host of the Screening Room, "an avenue for local poets to read their work to the public," at 3131 Sheridan Drive in Amherst.

Raised by a mother who was born in Greece and a first generation Greek-American father, Nicholas describes the West Side of his childhood as "a mixture of many ethnic groups, also a great, rough, colorful place for a young boy to grow up."

His dad, Samuel, suffered an electrical accident on a painting job and was not expected to live due to massive shock and burns.

"He survived and went on to start his own company, and father me, his second child, but the constant pain was a source of distress for him throughout his life," Nicholas said. "He was a bright but un-educated man, who pushed me to get an education."

Nicholas studied at the University at Buffalo, when poets like Robert Creeley and John Logan taught there. He received a master's degree in English.

"At that time, due to the shortage of teaching jobs, I became involved in the painting and contracting business. For the next 25 years, I worked on numerous commercial and industrial projects," including supervision of rigging, sandblasting and painting sections of the Peace Bridge.

However it's never too late to pursue a dream. He taught part time at ECC North and Niagara County Community College. But it fueled a growing commitment to language and literature, helping him to land in 2004 a full-time teaching job.

His father, Samuel, now deceased yet immortalized in imagery by his son, "would have been proud," Perry Samuel Nicholas believes, "of the turns my life has taken."

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail

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