Wesley Nicholas Eulogy by Mark Nicholas

Good morning. For those who don’t know, I am Mark, the eldest son of Wesley Nicholas, and I’d like to share a few things about my Dad with you this morning as we remember, celebrate and give thanks for his life. 

Wesley Bernard Nicholas was born on December 30th, 1946, to Joe and Isadora Nicholas, who were both in their mid 40’s when he was born. As an only child, he grew up in the small oil refinery and railroad town of Laurel, Montana, which sits on the banks of the Yellowstone River and just west of Billings by about 15 miles. Montana is well-known as the Big Sky Country and from the town of Laurel you have a good view of the Pryor Mountains to the southeast and the impressive Beartooth Mountains to the southwest. The reason I tell you this is that this place and these views were deeply imprinted in my dad and no matter where else he lived, no place could be or ever would be home to him like Montana. 

Growing up the only child of older parents, my dad had a fascinating childhood in that he was exposed to a variety of things by HIS dad, who was a skilled and resourceful jack of all trades. His dad was the town’s deputy sheriff, the water treatment plant operator, mechanic, machinist, building inspector and a pilot, among other things. This meant that my dad had a broad view of the world and what was possible. As a kid my dad was a paperboy, played trumpet, was a photographer and earned his pilot’s license in high school. He also dabbled in hunting, golf, and wrestling, but the most formative and favorite activity of his childhood by far was being with his dad and working alongside him in their garage shop, which was a wonderland of tools, machines, oil, steel, bolts, and screws. It smelled industrious and wasindustrious. It was a place where possibilities could become a reality. And it was the place where my Dad’s jack-of-all-trades skills were cultivated and honed. (And … if any of you have ever been inside mine, my brother’s or sister’s garage, you will how see these values are still in play, a couple generations later :) 

For example, in the back there is a photo of a homemade tractor that my dad and grandpa built together. 

After high school, Dad moved to Bozeman and attended Montana State University, where he studied mechanical engineering. While there he connected with a girl from his hometown by the name of Barbara and they became friends, playing cards and hanging out socially. During that time, Dad became smitten with Barbara, and though I’m told it took some convincing, he won her hand and they were married in September of 1968. After graduation, Dad accepted a job as a manufacturing engineer at the Western Electric plant in Omaha, Nebraska, where they moved in 1970. 

(Actually, there was a little stowaway onboard who also made the move with them. This guy, whom they hadn’t met just yet. ;)

So Omaha, Nebraska, became the place where my dad and mom set up their tents and raised their family. I was born late summer of 1970, a year a half later my brother Mike came along, and then 4 1/2 years after that, our little sister Wendy was born. 

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In thinking back over our dad’s life, there are so many memories, stories and values that I could stand here and tell you about. But for those of you here who have only known him the past 7 years that they’ve lived here in Middle Tennessee, I want to share a few of his meaningful traits with you, in hopes that you will know him and his legacy a bit better. 

The first thing that comes to mind is our dad’s work ethic. As I mentioned previously, he was an engineer and worked at Western Electric (which later became AT&T). His job there at that plant was to design telecommunications connectors for cabling operations. In the 70’s it was all copper cabling but in the 80’s they switched to fiber optic cable connectors. He was a quintessential engineer and was always concerned with detail, precision and process. At the dinner table when my mom would badger all of us with the question “how was your day?”, when it was my dad’s turn he would tell about some supremely boring machine process and how it had to “be exact” and how the part’s variance could not be off more than “1/100th the thickness of a sheet of paper”. I still don’t know how thick a regular sheet of paper is and probably never will - but he did and he cared and that made him good at his job.  

Dad was a self-described workaholic, but it never did interfere with family. His work life was deeply patterned and systematic - he went in to work early by 7am and was home by 4:30 on the dot every single day (this to avoid the non-existent ‘rush hour’ traffic in Omaha, Nebraska). He’d come in the house, drop his keys in the ashtray on top of the refrigerator and briefcase on the counter in the same spot. In the kitchen he’d kiss Mom on the cheek then head straight to his lazy-boy recliner to read the newspaper until dinner was ready at 5pm. In all our years at home, this pattern was as predictable as the sun rising in the morning and never wavered. Looking back, I am deeply grateful for the consistency that he offered, even in something as seemingly trivial as this. 

My siblings and I considered our Dad to be an extraordinary and thrifty do it yourself-er and we grew up in awe of his abilities. Whether it was building us a treehouse, re-roofing the house, fixing the cars (I never once remember my dad taking a car in to a mechanic for anything), electrical, plumbing, repairing clocks, etc, no matter what it was, our dad could do or fix seemingly anything. 

My dad was not selfish with his abilities and routinely shared them with others. He was the go-to guy for all the widows at church who needed their cars repaired, free of charge. He would be at church several Saturdays a month working on the antiquated boiler system so we could have heat the next day during services. He also ran the “tape ministry” at church, which meant that he would record, duplicate and distribute cassette tapes of the sermons to shut-ins around town.

Dad’s work and acts of services were very formative for us kids, and his actions showed us that we were to give ourselves away on behalf of others. 

That sounds a bit like the way of Jesus as well. 

Faith was a crucial element of our Dad’s life. He was raised by his parents (his mom in particular) as a Christian Scientist, which if you know anything about it, it is a pretty wacky religion. It was in college and during a time of searching that my mom invited him to a Bible study she hosted in her apartment. He became curious about Jesus and Christianity and after talking to a pastor there, eventually placed his faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ and developed a deep love for God’s Word. 

As I mentioned earlier, he was always looking for ways to serve his local church, but throughout his Christian life, he and my mom supported many foreign missionaries as well, in a number of different countries, several of whom have become lifelong friends. 

After retirement Dad became a Gideon and devoted much of his spare time to distributing Bibles and serving as Treasurer of the local Gideon chapter. 

You can see the pattern here… a life well-spent serving others. 

But there’s a couple more things I’d like to briefly add. 

Music was so very meaningful to our dad. He loved playing trumpet and was a great player. In high school he was often asked to play “Taps” at military funerals, he marched in the Tournament of Roses parade one year and traveled many places with the Montana Centennial Band. In Omaha he joined the Western Electric company band and would play annual holiday concerts, in nursing homes and so on. He also played around on the saxophone and piano. One of my favorite memories as a child is that he and my mom would often play duets on the family piano to serenade us kids as we’d be going to sleep at night. Dad would take the high, melodic parts and my mom would take the lower, rhythmic arrangements. My favorite song in their repertoire was "Jamaica Farewell.” 

And even though he let us play with it when we were older, it was clear that his large console stereo system was one of his most valued treasures, and he would love to play his albums or listen to music on the radio for hours on end. 

For being a pretty reserved guy, music was the thing that kept his emotions right at the surface. He and my mom’s love for music permeated our home, and the net result is that we kids loved music as well. 

My dad was kind of a quiet person and not one who ever looked for or sought attention from other folks. However, he was always quick with a joke or a quip. I’ve noticed in a number of the condolences that people have offered that they remember him as a funny guy. Dad liked to think that his humor was dark and even started writing a memoir a few years back that he titled “Dark Humor”. But truth be told, his brand of humor wasn’t dark at all - rather it was DRY humor or WRY humor even. Kind of like if Bob Newhart was a bit more awkward and a bit more silly - that’s the kind of humorist our Dad was. A lot of times, during a family conversation, everybody would be talking about a topic and Dad would be sitting there not contributing anything, but then POW, out of left field he’d toss out a quip, joke or funny observation. Almost like a non-sequitur, he was there just waiting to pounce with a joke or something that would tickle him. 

His humor was the thing that let us know he was paying attention and that there was a world of thought going on inside his head. 

Dad’s humor was almost always self-deprecating. In the back on the table, there’s a little life history printout that Dad wrote back in 2004 that would give you a small glimpse into his funny mind. 

There is a lot I’ve left out and more I wish I could say to let you know about our dad. But in closing, there is a single word that I think sums up my dad’s life and his legacy quite well. And that word is Fidelity, which means:

Faithfulness to a person, cause or belief AND demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support. And also, accuracy in details. 

Our Dad - and our mom’s husband - was faithful to us, his family. He was faithful to his friends and faithful to his God. He was loyal and always supportive. I heard him say several times that he wanted to be known as someone who always provided for his family. And by God’s grace, he was able to do just that. Thanks, Dad, for leaving us with a good legacy to aspire to and a story to live into. Your story was a good one and we are grateful for your fidelity in all our lives. We look forward to seeing you again in the resurrection, your body, mind and soul restored and glorified. Until that day, we’ll be missing you being here with us. 

And while I’m being thankful, I want to publicly honor and give thanks to our Mom, who sacrificed so much in caring for Dad his whole adult life, but particularly towards the end as his MS became more pronounced and burdensome. Dad endured so much without complaint, and you were there with him, holding his hand every step of the way. I love you, Mom, and I can only imagine the truckload of crowns being readied for you in heaven. Thank you for setting a loving example of faithfulness too. 

And finally, to my parents’ friends at Smyrna Baptist Church - thank you for your welcoming kindness to my parents in their relatively short time here. You have given them a place to belong and a church home away from their Montana home. May God bless you for this. To God be the glory.  

Hazel Pennington Adkins

 Hazel as a young girl

Hazel as a young girl

On February 5th, 1921, in a small cabin in the backwoods of Leslie County, Kentucky, 

 Hazel Pennington Adkins was born to Alice Joseph and Willard Pennington.

In the year of Hazel’s birth, the world was a mix of discovery and turmoil. Warren Harding was the US president. In January that year, he signed a resolution declaring the end to America’s state of war with Germany, Austria, and Hungary. It was also the year of the founding of the Communist Party in China, and the first broadcasting of a baseball game across the country via radio. Families sat in wide eyed wonder in their living rooms as they listened to the Pirates against the Phillies at Forbes Stadium.

1921 was also the year of the first vaccine for tuberculosis. Jews were just starting to immigrant into Eastern Europe. All the while, thousands of miles away, for a young beautiful girl, with eyes like her name, a life of discovery and turmoil, was just beginning. 

Hazel grew up in the hills of Kentucky. She was the oldest of seven children. Following her was Mavie, Omi, Oni Polly Jane, Ann, and Arlene.

As a child, Hazel came to the Christian Faith at a house revival, where the community would come together in each others’ homes for food and worship. They would arrive in wagons from all over. A preacher would bring the sermon, souls would be saved and sometimes the sick and crippled among them would be healed. It was in this kind of meeting that Hazel committed her life to Jesus. The soil was rich with the love of God, but the ground of their lives was often rocky. Still, she walked on, never giving up hope for something more. Something better.

Hazel, like all her sisters, was no stranger to hard work, growing up in the era of the Great Depression. But also in those days, as life was simpler, they learned how to make the most out of the smallest joys in life. 

 Wayne in his 20's

Wayne in his 20's

Hazel was a young beauty, with long auburn hair and curious eyes. She was the kind of girl that made men and boys alike fall silent when she walked into a church service. It was there, in a church meeting, that she met her first love and her first husband: Wayne Shepherd. It was a love that would be wrought with dark valleys and desperation. 

As the oldest girl, she was the first to marry, giving her vows at the tender year of sixteen. On January 17, at the age of seventeen on a snowy winter night, she gave birth to her first child: a dark haired angel named Lola.

My mother.

Not long after Lola was born, the disappearance of Wayne became a regular occurrence. After Lola, came many other children. And with this, disappearances and visits from Wayne became a part of life, like a wicked wind blowing him in and away again and again. Wayne would re-appear, romance Hazel, leaving her to find herself once again with child. Then he would be off again. To where, she never knew. This was the life Hazel endured.

In the early years of raising her children, they lived in Bad Creek, Kentucky, in a two room, roughly hewn, wooden house. Hazel cooked on a wood burning stove, lit the darkness with coal oil lamps, bathed the kids in front of the fire in a large aluminum tub. The family gathered for meals at a long, handmade table. 

They ate the food she and her children grew and the meat that the boys could hunt. Often there wasn't enough. Being married, Hazel was not eligible for any government assistance. Finally, when she feared she and her children would starve, she decided she had had enough of that wicked wind.  A blessing came by way of a divorce. Her love for him was as confounding as it was tragic. Maybe only she knew what it was about him that made her love him for as long as she did, almost to the point of her undoing. In the end, she chose her children, like any good mother would. 

 Wayne with two other women (neither is Hazel)

Wayne with two other women (neither is Hazel)

She made lye soap for their baths and the clothes they wore from burlap sacks. To wash their clothes, she carried water from the creek, heated it, then poured it into a large tub of water where she would scrub the clothes on a wash board. She then hanged them on the clothesline in the yard, drying them in the sun. In the winter, they would dry the clothes by the fire.

 It was a time of simplicity, struggle, and triumph in their tiny house bursting at the studs with nine children.  

There was no man to protect her or the kids. Living as far back in the woods as she did, there was no law or nearby neighbor to call on if she needed help.  

One night, as they were about to turn in for bed, she heard a commotion outside, the voices of men who had been drinking. She looked around the house for a way to defend herself without endangering her children, then an idea came to her. She stuck her small hand down in the front of her dress. This was where women, in those days would often keep a small handgun. She answered the door with her hand down in the front of her dress.  Two men stood there, with dirty faces and shifty smiles "We was hungry and wanted you to fix us something to eat." Everything about them spoke danger to her, but what was she to do, alone with her children in the woods.  Hazel spoke next "I will fix you something to eat but I want you to know that I have my hand on a gun and if you make any wrong moves I will not hesitate to blow you away." She showed them in. The kids all staring up fearfully at the men who took two seats at the table." She never took her hand out of her dress. She cooked the food, served them and watched them eat while never letting her show of strength down. Finally, as the sun rose they left, looking defeated. When she locked the door behind them she pulled her hand out of her dress. Her bluff had convinced them and saved her family from who knows what awful thing that could have happened. 

Later on, as her children grew older, she longed to leave the wild hills of Kentucky, and finally she did, moving the city of Dayton, Ohio. All of her kids, one by one, would follow her there. 

If Hazel thought leaving the wild ways of Kentucky would protect her from tragedy in life, sadly, this was not to be true. Her son Willard, a father of five, in the prime of his life, was accidentally electrocuted by a faulty wire running through a puddle of rain in the garage.  After that she lost a grandson in his twenties who was attacked outside of a bar.  There were other tragedies and troubles that don't seem fitting to tell. For one life, it seemed almost too much to bear. Somehow, she did.

There were good times as well. One of my most vivid memories of Grandma Hazel was coming to her spotless house in Dayton, at the age of my youngest daughter now. The aroma of chicken frying and biscuits baking in the oven was mouth watering. I would kiss her beautiful, soft cheek, which always smelled of Jergens lotion. But her hands always smelled of bleach. 

You cannot talk about Hazel without her mentioning her unwavering devotion to Bleach. She was BIG on Bleach. She bleached the floors, she bleached the dishes, she bleached the clothes, she bleached the sinks, and she bleached the counters (maybe even the kids). No germ dared to take up residence in her presence. All her kids use to say that you could eat off her floors. And this was the gospel truth.

We did eat. If you went to Hazel’s house, she would always feed you. She knew how to love you with food.

My Uncle Arthur said that he remembered showing up at her house one night, long after the dinner hour, and it only took a few moments for the kitchen to be brewing. She cooked a full meal just for Arthur. I’m sure each of her kids could tell a story just like this. 

At her kitchen table, with chrome legs and a checkered table cloth, we would sit and listen to stories of the old days in Kentucky, all while she fixed fried chicken, potatoes, and cat head biscuits. I can almost taste it today. 

Hazel was still beautiful and wrinkle free at almost 90 years old. Her life, like her beauty, was deep and complex. She was not a woman without sins or regrets. To make her seem a saint would be untrue and a dis-service to her memory. She was all things. Sinner and saint. Hero and villain. But in the end, regardless of all else, a daughter of the Almighty. 

Her two sons, Larry and Arthur, are quoted as saying something that reflects the feeling of all her kids: “Other than Jesus, Mom was the best friend we ever had”

 Hazel as a mother (I think Wayne has been cut out of the picture) 

Hazel as a mother (I think Wayne has been cut out of the picture) 

On Easter, 2007, at her second daughter Frieda’s house, she suffered a brain aneurysm. And yet, she astonished the doctors by surviving brain surgery at 87. 

She spent the remainder of her life in the loving care of Frieda, with frequent visits from her firstborn Lola and her other children and grandchildren from time to time. She lived in a comfortable house in the peace of the woods and fresh air.

On the snow covered morning of January 15th, Hazel went home to be with Jesus, just shy of her 90th birthday. On January 17th, family gathered to celebrate her life and to lay her to rest, the same day as the birth of her eldest daughter, Lola. So, it seemed that day, heaven had received the birthday gift of a daughter coming home.

When I think of Hazel and her life, I am reminded of this verse: 

 "For lo, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land."  -Song of Solomon 2:11–1

Hazel Pennington Adkins. 

Rest in God's peace.