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Nikolaus Gottwald

January 10, 1935 - May 4, 2020
Kalamazoo, MI



At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.

West Michigan Cancer Center
200 North Park Street
Kalamazoo, MI 49007
(269) 382-2500
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Wings of Mercy
100 Pine St #393
Zeeland, MI 49464
(616) 396-1077
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Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.

1830 S. Westnedge
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
(269) 349-4961
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Life Story / Obituary


An extraordinary man to know and to love, Nik Gottwald devoted his life to the family he so adored and cherished. Generous and kindhearted, his faith was an unwavering guide throughout his life. With perseverance and determination, Nik survived unspeakable atrocities to build a life full of joy and inspiration; a life he can be proud of. Although he will be deeply missed, Nik leaves behind a beautiful collection of memories to be cherished forever.

Nik’s remarkable story began on January 10, 1935. Scotch tape and Polaroid Photography had recently been invented and Parker Brother’s Monopoly Game was soon to be released. The Nazi Party was gaining in power and it was difficult to recall much of anything that wasn’t affected by its regime throughout the region. In Dresden, Germany, Georg and Maria (Stahl) Gottwald celebrated with great joy the arrival of their newborn baby boy, Nikolaus, and his twin brother, who brought so much promise during this tumultuous time.

Born into a family of medical professionals, Nik’s early life was met with the privileges of living in prosperity. He and his siblings were accustomed to having fine clothes and toys, a nanny, a cook, and a housekeeper. His parents were talented musicians. Nik enjoyed hearing his father play the violin and his mother play the piano. As a young child, he learned to play the cello. Music, especially classical music, was a passion of his throughout his life. St. Nikolaus Day was always very special to him. In great anticipation he and his three siblings would sit together in the family room and wait for St. Nikolaus to give them candy and apples and read them a story. A devout Catholic family, they enjoyed attending church services and special family outings. Nik’s father refused to allow the Nazi party to indoctrinate his children so Nik and his siblings were sent to a private school to avoid the party’s influence.

They lived a good life until the pressure of the Nazi regime inflicted its travesty on their home and traditions. The family often sought refuge in a community air raid shelter. People often made fun of them for being Catholic and praying, but when the war came to their doorsteps even those people joined in prayer. During the war, many of their possessions were taken away. Nik’s father, along with their horse, were drafted back into the German Army. Food was rationed and everything became scarce.

On February 13, 1945, when Nik was the tender age of ten years old, their lives were changed forever. Dresden was under attack. British and American Forces dropped more than 3,900 tons of high explosives and incendiary bombs leveling the city in just fourteen hours. While running to the shelter, the air pressure from a nearby explosion ripped all the doors off the hinges, blew out the windows, and knocked Nik down two flights of stairs. As his parents courageously led their family out of the city, everything was in flames. The images were burned into Nik’s mind from that day forward. Miraculously his family survived without any physical injuries, but emotionally they were never the same. They had lost absolutely everything.

His family crossed Germany mostly by foot or train to the American Zone. They eventually found family to stay with and began rebuilding their lives, thankful to have each other. Nik attended a boarding school for a while before joining a monastery in Switzerland. He soon realized that life was not for him and left the monastery, finding work in construction scraping mortar off old bricks, until December of 1957 when, as a young man of just 22 years old, he boarded a ship bound for New York. He took a train to Fort Wayne where his sister lived in nearby Gas City. He arrived just in time for Christmas and began the new year in the new world.

Finding employment was challenging as people looked at him in judgment. Undeterred, Nik accepted several factory positions until he landed at Sears Roebuck and Company. Ambitious to succeed, he took night classes at a business college and later joined the Dana Corporation. With diligence and time, Nik moved all the way up to Transportation Manager during his career with the company before he retired in 1988. Nik commonly displayed true grit and perseverance, letting nothing stop him from success.

As Nik’s career was taking off and he was finding ways to enjoy life, he joined a local boating and ski club in Marion, Indiana. It was there, through mutual friends, that he was introduced to Jane, his lovely bride to be. Chivalrous and gentlemanly, they hit it off right from the start! Jane was attracted to his kindness and traditional values. On one of their dates, Nik allowed Jane to drive his boat and she banked it right on the beach! And so began a true and happy love story. Joining in marriage on February 23, 1963 they grew their family to include three wonderful children. As parents, they carried on many of the German traditions from Nik’s childhood. Sundays were savored for family time. Nik started each Sunday filling their home with the sounds of classical composers, his favorite being Mozart, before heading to church. Afternoons were spent together boating, shopping, or even camping together. Whatever joyful activity they chose, Sunday’s were reserved for family and no one else!

Every spring they enjoyed vacations to Florida. Nik loved riding roller coasters with the kids and visiting the water parks. Often, they would take their boat or motorhome to various inland lakes including down to Tennessee. He was at home on the water, wherever that may be. As a father, he was strict yet loving. Though there was no winning an argument with Nik, there simply wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for his family.

By 1999, he and Jane returned to live in Germany in order to help expand her grandfather's business. Nik connected with his brother who was still living there and eventually ended up working for his brother's business as well. Nik was able to treat Jane to the many special German traditions of his childhood during their time there. With a longing to be closer to their growing family, they returned to Kalamazoo by 2006. Nik’s faith life was an integral part of his being. At St. Augustine Cathedral, which reminded Nik of his early years as an altar boy in Germany, he joined the choir where he could be part of making the music he so often immersed himself in. He leaned on his strong Christian faith throughout his life and credited his beliefs to helping him survive the many hardships he endured and overcame. With tears in our eyes, but gladness in our hearts we say goodbye to our dear Nik. There is no doubt that his positive influence will live on in the hearts of his many special friends and the family he so cherished.

Nikolaus M. Gottwald, age 85, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, died on May 4, 2020. Surviving are his wife, Jane; children: Timothy (Michelle) Gottwald, Katherine Gottwald, and Christopher (Jessica) Gottwald; grandchildren: Dominik Willms, Jacob Gottwald, Annabelle Gottwald, Paezen Gottwald, and Merrick Willms; siblings: Johannes Gottwald and Georg Gottwald; and many nieces and nephews. Nik was preceded in death by his sister, Annuziatta Stanley; his brother, Michael Gottwald; and his parents. A private Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at St. Augustine Cathedral in Kalamazoo with burial at Yorkville Cemetery. Visit Nik’s personal webpage at www.BetzlerLifeStory.com where you may archive a favorite memory or photo, and sign his online guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to West Michigan Cancer Center or Wings of Mercy. Arrangements by Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900.