Students in Westside district mourn P.E. teacher Jeff Nannen after his sudden death -
Published Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 1:00 am / Updated at 7:55 pm
Students in Westside district mourn P.E. teacher Jeff Nannen after his sudden death

When colleagues at Westside Community Schools say Jeff Nannen was a role model for the young students he taught in physical education classes, they mean it.

Nannen organized a fun run for kids every year in the neighborhood around Loveland Elementary, one of the two elementary schools where he was teaching. He volunteered at open gym wellness nights organized by the school's community club. He rode his bike everywhere, and his students would notice, spotting him around town.

“He promoted and showed the students how to be active and live a healthy lifestyle by doing that physical activity,” said Stephanie Hornung, Loveland's principal and a former Westside physical education teacher.

But on Wednesday and Thursday, students at the schools where Nannen taught over the past 20 years were struggling with his death.

Nannen, 55, is believed to have suffered a heart attack Tuesday night after he got out of a hot tub at his home, said his brother, David Nannen, of Blair, Neb.

Nannen said his brother was very fit, but he'd had a bad bout of influenza B a few weeks ago. He was finally feeling better.

“We're still kind of numb,” David Nannen said.

Fitness was no fad for Nannen. Before he became a well-regarded P.E. teacher, he was a standout athlete — first at Syracuse High School, where he was an all-state basketball player and state champion high jumper; then at the University of South Dakota, where the post player was an All-American and held a scoring record for more than 20 years. He later was a professional basketball player in Europe, playing in England, Germany, Australia and Sweden.

Later, he took to the courts in Hoop-It-Up tournaments, playing with other former college and pro players such as the Dean Thompson, the University of Nebraska at Omaha's all-time leading scorer. In 1991, the Sioux Falls, S.D., Continental Basketball Association team tapped Nannen as a one-night fill-in when it was missing a player in its matchup against the Omaha Racers.

Nannen was part of a basketball family. David Nannen played a year for Nebraska Wesleyan. Uncles Lyle and Neil played at Nebraska. They, along with their younger brother, Mike, all coached for years. The family has been recognized by the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame Foundation with its Fisher Family Hall of Fame Award.

Jeff Nannen also coached at both Westside Middle School, where he started his career with the district, and at Westside High School.

On Wednesday night and Thursday, crisis teams were available for students and staff at Loveland, Sunset Hills and the middle school.

“It's a real heavy feeling here today,” Hornung said. “The common feeling is, 'I miss Mr. Nannen.' And we all do.”

Hornung said Nannen touched a lot of lives, at the high school level as well as at the lower grades. She'd already heard from a parent who'd had Nannen as a coach.

At Loveland, he taught students twice a week. At the end of the second day, he always gave them a Tootsie Roll as a treat. Tootsie Rolls were featured on many of the cards students prepared Thursday to send to his family.

“His colleagues and peers just really respected him,” she said.

In addition to his brother, he is survived by his parents, Dick and Sherry Nannen of Blair; sister, Marcia Haynes of Doniphan, Neb., and several nieces and nephews.

Funeral services will be 11 a.m. Saturday at First United Methodist Church in Blair.

Contact the writer: Julie Anderson    |   402-444-1223

Julie splits her time between K-12 education, covering several area school districts and private schools, and general assignment stories.

Metro transit recommends streetcar, rapid-transit bus line for Omaha
6-mile stretch of Highway 75 is the road not taken
After decades looking in, Republican Dan Frei seeks chance to take action
Cause of Omaha power outage along Regency Parkway unclear
Ben Sasse, Shane Osborn try to pin label of D.C. insider on each other
Curious about government salaries? Look no further
Easter Sunday temperatures climb into 80s in Omaha area
Omaha police investigate two nonfatal shootings
City Council to vote on adding Bluffs pedestrian safety lights
Sole big donor to Beau McCoy says he expects nothing in return
Convicted killer Nikko Jenkins might await his sentence in prison
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
Midlands runners ready for Boston Marathon
Families from area shelters treated to meal at Old Chicago
Firefighters battle brush fire near Fontenelle Forest
Sioux City riverboat casino prepares to close, still hoping to be saved
Omaha high schoolers to help canvass for Heartland 2050
Mizzou alumni aim to attract veterinary students to Henry Doorly Zoo
Grant ensures that Sioux City can start building children's museum
Party looks to 'nudge' women into public office in Iowa
For birthday, Brownell-Talbot student opts to give, not get
Two taken to hospital after fire at Benson home
Grace: Pipe organ concert a tribute to couple's enduring love
Omaha-area jails and ERs new front line in battling mental illness
Civil rights hearing to consider voting policies in Midwest
< >
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Dickson’s Week in Review, April 13-19
On Twitter some guy tweeted that the spring game isn’t taken as seriously as a regular-season contest. What was your first clue? When the head coach entered waving a cat aloft?
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Meridian Med Spa
50% Off Botox®, Botox® Bridal Party, Fillers and Peels
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »