Former Illinois Supreme Court Justice John Nickels, a farmer from rural Kane County who rose to the top of the state's legal field, died Monday at age 82, court officials said.
Nickels served on the high court from 1992 to 1998 after a long legal career in the suburbs, eventually retiring to spend time on his farm near Maple Park.
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"This farmer's son is going home," Nickels said when announcing his 1998 retirement. "I am going back to the land that has nourished my soul; back to the land that I never really got off my hands or out of my heart."
Nickels started as a local judge in a district that included Kane and Kendall counties and spent time on the Waubonsee Community College board. Local leaders said his time there influenced his work on the court.
"He earned respect because he brought that same matter-of-fact, common-sense approach to the courtroom and to his decisions," said Kane County State's Attorney Joseph McMahon. "His life experiences and faith in people were present in the decisions he made."
Nickels' Supreme Court efforts included trying to ensure low-income Illinoisans had access to legal help and trying to raise the level of civility in sometimes contentious legal wrangling.
"John was not just a smart and talented judge, he was also a kind and decent man," said Justice Bob Thomas of Naperville, who holds the Supreme Court seat once held by Nickels. "He was a gentleman in the best sense of the word, and his commitment to collegiality and civility was an inspiration to everyone around him.
Nickels leaves behind his wife, Merita, seven children and 24 grandchildren.
A visitation is scheduled for Friday and Saturday at St. Gall Catholic Church in Elburn with a Mass scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday.