Friends, family remember MSU student who died unexpectedly in March
MSU was Nikki Touchinski’s favorite place.
“She was just happy here in a way I’ve never seen anyone be happy here before,” biomedical laboratory science junior Parker Anderson said. “I’m glad that of all places for her to go, it was here, because I don’t think she really would’ve wanted it to be anywhere else at this point in her life.”
Nikki, a biomedical laboratory science junior, died unexpectedly at age 21 in Mayo Hall on March 17. Anderson said Nikki often viewed her university in a positive light.
“Every time I would say there were a lot, a lot of problems here, she would go, ‘Yeah, but there are a lot of people that can make solutions,’” Anderson said. “I was like, ‘Damn, you’re right.’ That was truly how she saw things.”
Nikki attended various camps on campus when she was younger, and she fell in love with MSU, her mother Carole Touchinski said.
“She was just one of those people that bleed green. She was such a Spartan it was incredible,” Touchinski said. “She loved MSU. She loved her academic program and her professors. She wanted to go on and get her master’s and doctorate degree at MSU, of course. She was in the right place, she loved it there.”
During Nikki’s time at MSU, she became heavily involved in PRISM, the LGBTQ caucus in South Neighborhood.
Originally, Nikki attended a meeting to support a friend, and because sushi was being served. Her friend was running for president and during the meeting, no one ran for vice president, so Nikki jokingly ran and won, Anderson said.
“She just fell in love with it and just kept doing it,” Anderson said.
Nikki loved PRISM’s mission and connecting with people to form friendships, Carole said.
“She just wanted to make sure young people who are gay have the opportunity to be safe and be heard and be able to socialize and connect and create life long relationships,” Carole said.
People often thought Nikki and her friend from high school, McKinleigh Claffey, were dating, Claffey said with a laugh.
“Basically, our entire friendship everyone assumed we were dating because Nikki talked about me a lot,” Claffey said.
Claffey said Nikki was her best friend. They talked or texted every day.
“The last text was her telling me I shouldn’t become a hobo because it’s too cold in the U.P. to become a hobo,” Claffey said. “If that doesn’t perfectly describe our relationship, I don’t know what will.”
The small, simple details are what Anderson said he misses the most about Nikki.
“It’s hard because I don’t think I ever met anyone that was like her, and I think that’s a sentence that is super cliché to begin with, but she’s a very quiet and introspective person,” Anderson said. “She was one of those people where she seemed super shy until you got to know her, and the second she decided she liked you, she was an open book about everything.”
This school year, Nikki and Anderson spent every day together, either in class or doing mundane things.
Nikki worked overnight shifts and Anderson has clinical insomnia, so their schedules lined up well at night, Anderson said.
“I think the most profound thing, the thing that I miss the most, that was a reoccurring thing that was a memory is we would just walk for hours,” Anderson said. “It would be 1 or 2 in the morning, we’d walk from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., just talking. Go to my room, be like, ‘Oh, we have class at 8 a.m.’ We’d laugh and walk to South where our class was, get breakfast.
“It was just our thing. Now I have to ride bikes everywhere because it’s just not the same feeling. It’s like I don’t go on late night walks anymore and it’s like, that was it, it was our thing.”
Nikki developed holes in the soles of her shoes because most days she would log 40,000 to 50,000 steps on her Fitbit, Anderson said.
If she had not walked as many steps as she wanted that day, she would walk up and down the stairs in her building, Anderson said.
“Whenever her mom would go down to visit her, which was probably every few months, her mom would have to bring her or buy her new shoes because Nikki legitimately walked holes in the bottom of her shoes,” Claffey said.
Another thing Nikki loved was peppermint mocha, Anderson said.
“The one thing she was obsessed with more than I think anything else in the world was peppermint mochas. Anytime we were near a place that served one, she had to stop and get one, no matter what we were doing,” Anderson said. “I don’t know why it was those specifically, because I love mint flavored things, but she loved them to the point where it was almost too much.”
Nikki grew up in Marquette, Michigan, and made her first donation to the United Way of Marquette County at 5 years old. She then spent the rest of her life helping others, Carole said.
“She received three different presidential service awards from Barack Obama for the time she spent providing community service and was recognized by the State of Michigan from Representative Steve Lindberg for her community service as well,” Carole said. “She was a great fundraiser for nonprofit organizations, too.”
Nikki also held a black belt in the martial art of Soo Bahk Do. She competed in national tournaments until she left for college, Carole said.
One year, they went to a national competition in New Jersey and Nikki was at the age when boys and girls sparred with each other. As she walked toward the ring, the boys she was about to compete against were smiling like they thought “this is going to be easy.” Nikki then defeated all of the boys and got first place, Carole said.
Nikki is survived by her mother, father Michael and younger brother Rick.
Her cause of death is still unknown, but the medical examiner believes it was a catastrophic medical event, Touchinski said.
“Their work can last up to 90 more days, so we’re kind of waiting,” Carole said. “She kind of went to sleep and didn’t wake up. We’re hoping her last moments were peaceful.”
A GoFundMe was created in Nikki's honor with all the money raised to be split between the Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter and the Upper Peninsula Children's Museum.
Everyone needed the chance to meet Nikki, because their lives would have been better, Claffey said.
“I keep saying this, I don’t think I’ll ever have the chance to meet anyone like her ever again. I mean, I’m glad that I did, but it’s going to be so hard to ever come close to that again," Anderson said. “I would deal with this 20 or 30 times again for the same amount of time that we had. … If this heartbreak was the price of being her friend I would do it again in a heartbeat without thinking.”