02/11/09 — Nickens honored for work at Family Y

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Nickens honored for work at Family Y

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on February 11, 2009 1:46 PM

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Dr. Lee Adams, right, hugs J.R. Nickens at Nickens' retirement party at the Goldsboro Family Y Monday morning. Nickens worked at the front desk in the Y for more than 22 years.

For more than two decades, visitors to the Goldsboro Family Y were greeted by the smiling face of J.R. Nickens.

Nickens, 86, was the face of the Y, said many of the 80 or so friends who gathered at the facility Monday to pay tribute and thank him for his 22 years of service.

Nickens was more than the receptionist at the Family Y desk. He worked all over the place, answering questions, helping direct visitors, giving tours to people interested in joining and generally doing any chore that needed immediate attention.

When he entered the room Monday, he received a standing ovation from current and former employees and Family Y members as well as fellow members of First Christian Church.

"The Y has always meant an awful lot to him," said his wife, Edna, who accompanied him along with their daughter Patricia Saeger.

Mrs. Nickens said her husband has great faith and humor. And if anybody has trouble in the family, he is always there to cheer them.

His daughter, the middle child of three, said she hopes she can live up to the example set by her parents. They taught her family is important and faith is important.

"He's a special man," she said about her father.

Nickens worked at the Y up to the second week in January, when health issues forced him to give up his post.

Kriquette Davis, the Family Y's associate executive director, had Y member and volunteer Franklin Lane read her tribute to Nickens for her. There's no way she could have done it herself, she said.

"He's too close, and I'm soft-hearted. They have three daughters, and he calls me No. 4. Whenever I see him, he holds up four fingers," she said.

In the tribute, Mrs. Davis told Nickens he is a one-of-a-kind person who makes a difference in the lives of the people he comes into contact with.

"I have been blessed to have you in my life as have so many others. You have made a permanent imprint on my heart and a lasting impression on all around you," the tribute said. "J.R., you always say the Lord is in this place, and he is, but I say J.R. is in this place, and you will always be."

Family Y Director John Richards said Nickens worked the front desk the day the Y opened. And when Richards showed up for work his first day as swimming coach straight out of college, Nickens was the first person he saw.

"I would not be here today without his guidance, support and love," Richards said. "He is a very special person, and we will miss him. We always say the YMCA is a family, and if we are, he's the father."