Nickell attributes his initial motivation toward education to his mother, Orpha Nickell.
Nickell said he grew up in an impoverished family living on a farm near Atwood, Ill. His mother had only completed the eighth grade, and Nickell said she attributed the family's poverty to her lack of education.
"Once you're educated," Nickell remembers his mom saying to him, "no one can take that away from you."
"She lived through the Depression and she tried to pass this on to me," he said. "Consequently, I've always been driven to overachieve. It doesn't matter the price [or] the time."
Nickell doesn't accept the spotlight easily.
"Any time I've ever been recognized, I've always kind of found it kind of surprising," he said. "I have a tendency to think of the achievements of others. There are lots of teachers across the state who deserve greater recognition."
Nickell was nominated for the PRIDE award by Dr. Wayne H. Bowen, who is chairman of the Department of History. The PRIDE award recipient is chosen from among the five colleges of business, education, health and human services, liberal arts and mathematics and from among the two schools of polytechnic studies and university studies.
"He works really hard," Bowen said. "He teaches his classes at night, so he has the day to work on other things. He's really passionate about history and engaging people in it."
Bowen said Nickell's achievements include hosting "Almost Yesterday," Nickell's weekly radio broadcast that focuses on regional history, and coordinating the local Great Decisions chapter, a national program that highlights foreign policy issues concerning the U.S.
and is administered by the Foreign Policy Association, a not-for-profit group.
Bowen also cited Nickell's ability to raise money to the tune of nearly $4 million for regional school districts and Old Lorimier Cemetery.
"He's got 10,000 irons in the fire," said Larry Easley, a longtime friend and history teacher/colleague of Nickell's since his arrival at Southeast in 1969. "He's the busiest man on campus."
Nickell also is the campus representative for the Harry S. Truman scholarship, the chairman of the Missouri Mississippi River Parkway Commission, a member of the board of directors of the National Stars and Stripes Museum and Library in Bloomfield, Mo., and a member of the Missouri Board on Geographic Names.
"You could talk to anybody and they would know Frank," Easley said.
Speaking about his career, Nickell said, "You always have to have a reason to get up in the morning."