Nicholsons give back to AU and Anderson community

Tue, 2012-07-24 09:05 -- univcomm

   Date: 8/17/2001

   Title: Nicholsons give back to AU and Anderson community

When Dr. Robert and Dorothy (Nelis) Nicholson were newlyweds 57 years ago, they vowed more than their lives to each other. They also vowed to serve others and make a difference. And they have. Together and separately the Nicholsons have made an impact on the community and Anderson University, and they say they've been blessed along the way, with many wonderful lifelong friendships, and a "good place" to raise their family.

The Nicholsons believe by "giving back" to the community, or by being devoted to a project, one receives greater benefits. "It makes life fun and rewarding," said Robert.

His advice in serving? "Give it all you can, give it all you've got," he said. "There is no point in messing around with half-hearted efforts."

Together, the Nicholsons have given their all, and continue to give.

"We wanted to be of service, but we didn't know how. It was right at the end of World War II when we were married," said Robert, 77, who met his bride while both were students at Anderson University in the 1940s.

Robert paid his way through school, dipping ice cream for 30 cents an hour at Best Ever Dairy, and married his college sweetheart the day after receiving his undergraduate degree.

The local college meant a lot to the couple, as Robert came here from Minnesota, and Dorothy from Ohio. Robert remembers he told George Olt, dean at time, "If there is ever an opportunity to prepare and come back and teach, this place has made such a profound difference in me, and I would welcome the opportunity to do."

His wish came true. In 1945, after graduate work at New York University, the Nicholsons came back to Anderson. Robert was the young professor, teaching music theory and private voice. He led music groups and founded Anderson College Choir, which is now known as Anderson University Chorale.

In 1983, he was inaugurated as AU's third president, and served for seven years before retiring at age 66.

"Forty-five years at one place of employment that you believe in is pretty special," Robert said. Of his 45 years at AU, 13 were spent as a music professor, 25 as chief academic officer, and the last seven as president.

During his presidency, the president and his wife strove to be a liaison between the community and university, and in one year alone, the Nicholsons entertained 1,700 people in the president's home. They also had a fall tradition of inviting the new freshmen over for Dorothy's homemade pie, and in the spring they served dinner to the graduating seniors.

As he reflected on his years at AU, Robert said, "The most fun is always working with students and teaching. The most challenging and the one into which I gave myself most, I suppose, was being academic dean, chief academic officer. Those were crucial building years."

It was during those years when the university more than doubled in enrollment.

Dorothy was following her own calling. With a degree in early childhood education, Dorothy began writing curriculum materials and reference books for teachers, as well as Bible storybooks. And when Park Place Church of God opened a nursery school in 1952, Dorothy began teaching and later served as the director for 11 years.

As more mothers entered the work force, she realized the half-day nursery school was not meeting the needs of the Anderson community. Under Dorothy's leadership, the school initiated all-day kindergarten and day-care programs, which have benefited thousands of Anderson families.

The Nicholsons continue to remain active in their senior years.

"In the 11 years that I have been retired, I've been trying to do 'thank-yous' for the community," said Robert, who has served on many boards for many organizations and has provided consulting work for nonprofit organizations, such as United Way and the Christian Center.

"There is no virtue in idleness," said Robert who believes in the words "giving back" and also serves as the interim director of sanctuary choir at Park Place Church of God. Together, the Nicholsons enjoy volunteering and being involved in their church.

The Nicholsons have traveled extensively over the years, and hope to be able to do a little more, and they cherish time with their family, including their two sons, Paul and Gary, and their six grandchildren.

--THERESA CAMPBELL is a Staff Reporter for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin .