The MDD “Walk the Talk” Award is given to a Unitarian Universalist lay person for living a life which best exemplifies Unitarian Universalist principles. For 2017, the award goes to Joyce Nickols of the Unitarian Church of Los Alamos, New Mexico.
The award honors those who have lived a life that exemplifies Unitarian Universalist values. Joyce has lived such a life, and, in her eighties, continues to give her time and energy to her local church and the larger community.
Joyce is originally from Lowell, Michigan, and after marriage to her late husband Norris Nickols, lived in a community in the Los Angeles, California area. Norris worked as a physicist; Joyce served as chair of the local Democratic Party, and in that role she piloted local social justice initiatives.
When she and Norris moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico, nearly fifty years ago, in their early thirties, for Norris to work at the Laboratory, she found that social action effectively functioned not out of political offices, but out of churches. Joyce was also looking for a religious home for her five-year-old daughter Michele. Joyce had been raised Methodist, but she chose the Unitarian Church of Los Alamos to attend first, thinking that she would try out several local churches in turn.
She never made it to a second church, primarily because two couples at the Unitarian Church were so welcoming: the Rankens and her neighbors the Schultes.
Joyce’s first and immediate commitment at her new church was to join the Social Concerns Committee. As a result of Lois Schulte’s encouragement, she also ended up in the kitchen, finding that helping there is the best way to integrate, as food makes everything easier. In addition to her work on the Social Concerns Committee, she promptly became involved in the Religious Education program, staying active for many years, and, also promptly, she became Hospitality Chair. Joyce was a fantastic new Church member!
At the time, all committee chairs were invited to meet monthly with the Church Board in order to facilitate good decision-making and broad communication. Unfortunately, at Joyce’s very first joint Board and Council meeting, it became clear that the Board was taking an action that would tear the Church community apart emotionally and financially, and present an existential threat to the congregation. Joyce went home to discuss the matter with Norris, and, incredibly, she and Norris hatched a plan that would bring resources and humanity to the circumstances, and allow the congregation to stick together until they got to the other side of the crisis. Several others in the congregation helped implement the plan that Joyce and Norris crafted, and the congregation remained essentially intact.
Joyce has often noted that although people in the congregation are interested in many different community and social action projects, the main group always supports what is needed to be done in one other’s activities. ‘You help out in whatever way you can, even if it is not a project you chose.’
A surprising number of still existing community activities and resources were begun in the Los Alamos Unitarian Church during Joyce’s early years. The Los Alamos arts and crafts fair began in the Church’s Hearth Room. Charlie and Bobbie Holley of the Social Concerns Committee invited vendors up from the impoverished Espanola Valley to sell their handcrafted items at fair prices. When the Holleys moved to a farm in the Valley from Los Alamos, the Los Alamos Arts Council took over the management of the arts and crafts fair, which continues today.
Not one, but two separate homes for troubled teens were begun by the Unitarian Church Social Concerns Committee, including Casa Mesita for troubled girls, which was started in the Holleys’ former Los Alamos residence. Joyce sat on the Casa Mesita board, and remembers many fundraisers with the Holleys to help address needs in northern New Mexico.
The Soup and Bread luncheons at the Church, in which Joyce has been consistently involved, continue decades later as fundraisers for a wide variety of compelling needs throughout the region.
In subsequent years at the Church, Joyce also served as Buildings and Grounds Chair. Her tenure was memorable; as Chair she asked to be and was put in charge of the contractor who was renovating the front the church and building an entryway; she also ran the capital campaign that would pay for the renovations, which stood for decades until our new building was built just last year. Joyce also chaired for many years the committee responsible of memorial services, stepping away from that profound responsibility only recently. Over the years, Joyce also served, more than once, in every role on the Church Board except Secretary, including President, Vice-President/Council Chair, Treasurer, and Steward.
Subsequent social justice action outside the church included getting a Headstart program begun in Espanola, and fundraising for it. Joyce also sat on and served as president of the Self Help board in Los Alamos, chairing their annual Empty Bowls event, and then the Tools for Schools project, a major undertaking in which she enlisted help from many at the Church in order to provide supplies to needy children at 24 schools throughout Espanola, Pojoaque, and Los Alamos.
In the larger Unitarian Universalist community, Joyce has visited our partner church in Romania twice, and helped raise money for visitors from that church to Los Alamos. Joyce also served as registrar for the Russell Lockwood Leadership School for two years, and having taken the personality test that groups people by color, will tell you that she came out as a rainbow. She was impressed by the lesson there that every kind of personality is necessary for good decision-making.
Finally, Joyce remains active currently, helping out where help is needed, as usual, and serving as the glue that holds our church community of individuals together. She is looking forward to serving as a mentor this year to a young woman in the RE Coming of Age program. She met her several years ago as a ‘secret friend.’ The young woman specifically requested Joyce as her mentor; she is clearly an astute and very lucky young woman.
Joyce might tell you that she had good role models all along the way; she has returned that courtesy a hundredfold. Joyce has walked the talk for fifty years, and has lived a life exemplifying the very best of Unitarian Universalist values.