Fisherman who died in Moraine State Park was retired North Catholic teacher
The fisherman who died Monday after falling through ice at Butler County’s Moraine State Park was a retired North Catholic High School math teacher who taught for more than three decades and supported the school’s drama program.
Butler County Coroner William F. Young III identified the man as Pierre Niesen Jr., 71, of Dormont.
Niesen was pronounced dead shortly after first responders arrived at Lake Arthur to attempt a rescue operation about 10 a.m. Monday.
Young ruled the death accidental and said Niesen died of drowning and hypothermia.
Pierre Niesen had one son, Nick Niesen, 37, who described his father as a devout Catholic whose greatest passions included fishing and his late wife, Denise Niesen, who died in August 2011 at age 59.
“Those were his best times, he would tell me — when he was up there at Moraine State Park with her,” Nick Niesen said.
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School spokeswoman Lisa Logan said the school received several emails from people who knew Niesen and were saddened to learn of his death.
They recalled Niesen’s dedication to teaching algebra and calculus and supporting drama students, Logan said.
Every year, Niesen and his wife made it a point to attend the school’s featured play, Nick Niesen said. He noted his father could be outgoing and outspoken or more quiet-mannered, depending his company.
Pierre Niesen worked at North Catholic when the private school was in Pittsburgh’s Troy Hill neighborhood. He retired from teaching about five years ago, shortly before the private school campus moved to Cranberry.
A Pittsburgh native, Niesen had studied education at Villanova College and Duquesne University and taught math courses at Community College of Allegheny County, his son said.
When his wife died, Pierre Niesen had pondered selling his boat, giving up fishing and never returning to Moraine State Park, his son said.
“He gradually got back into it and it became a thing that he really enjoyed again,” said Nick Niesen, who joined his father on summer and cold-weather fishing trips when he could. “He also golfed, but there was nothing he enjoyed more than when we would go fishing.”
On multiple occasions, as the father-son pair drove toward the lake, Niesen suddenly would turn off the radio and turn to his son to remind him they were about to arrive at the place he’d spent the happiest days of his life.
“It sounds obvious,” Nick Niesen said, “but he went out doing what he loved.”
On Thursday morning, a park visitor called Butler County 911 to report seeing a person waving their arms for help in Lake Arthur near the Route 528 bridge, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said.
Rescue crews from several areas and a dive team from a volunteer firefighters group searched for Niesen. They recovered his body shortly after 1 p.m.
A tackle box with bait and other fishing gear was near a hole in the ice.
Temperatures hovered in the mid- to high-30s Thursday morning.
The incident prompted the U.S. Coast Guard to remind people who ice fish or participate in other outdoor winter activities such as ice boating, skating, tubing and kayaking to take precautions to avoid harm — including bringing life jackets, whistles and ice picks and removing gloves to gain traction on the ice during a fall.
At Pierre Niesen’s request, his body will be cremated and buried beside his late wife at St. John Vianney Cemetery in Carrick.
Arrangements are pending for a funeral Mass. For more information, call William Slater II Funeral Services at (412) 563-2800.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, email@example.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.