Art Nichols, 84, is never too busy or too tired to help someone in need, said Kathleen Kelleher, director of fund development for Senior Services of Southwest Michigan.
Nichols, a retired mechanical engineer who has volunteered with a number of organizations since he was in college, has for the past 18 years enjoyed his “encore career” volunteering with the Michigan Medicare/Medicaid Assistance program through senior services, Kelleher said. He also continues to volunteer in other aspects of the organization and in community.
“He has volunteering engrained in his spirit,” Kelleher said. “He has a compassionate nature. He sees someone in need and he is the first to step up and help out.”
Nichols believes he has helped somewhere between 3,000 to 5,000 people in Kalamazoo County through the MMPA program alone and said he has saved his clients about $250,000 a year by helping them make adjustments to their plans. For his volunteering work in the community, Nichols has been awarded the 2014 STAR (Sharing Time and Resources) Irving S. Gilmore Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Sometimes I’ve been busier in retirement than I was when I was working. You get carried away sometimes,” Nichols said. “I definitely don’t do this hoping I’ll get an award. I don’t even think about that.”
This is the second STAR award Nichols has received. In 2007, he was honored as the Career Volunteer and has also been the recipient of the AARP’s Andrus Award, for Community Service,“Michigan Senior Citizen of the Year”, National Association of AAA/MetLife Foundation’s ‘Older Volunteers Enrich America” national award, Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Claude Pepper Award, Senior Services’ Helen Coover Lifetime Achievement Award, Senior Corps ‘Spirit of Service award, and is a three-time Finalist for the Governor George Romney Lifetime Achievement Award.
Nichols said he began volunteering when he was attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts and a tornado ripped through the town, displacing many of the residents. He said his volunteer career really started when the American Red Cross asked some of the WPI students to accompany displaced children on field trips.
Nichols has also volunteered with Senior Services Nutrition program, church community suppers, Junior Achievement, 4-H, and the Shiners.
“You notice all these activities that I mentioned are one-on-one, face-to-face,” Nichols said. “I don’t like to get on committees and I don’t like to do task forces, anything like that. Most of the jobs I have in volunteering jobs I can set my own agenda … so (MMPA) is great.”
Kelleher said Nichols is a great problem solver and a huge asset to the program.
“Art puts all the pieces together and that’s just what he does and what he’s good at,” Kelleher said. “Art is someone who sees these needs and advocates for people, but he doesn’t want the recognition.”
Lisa Fuller, MMPA coordinator agreed and said Nichols is always patient, adaptive and a great “sleuth.”
“A lot of what we do takes some detective work. … I’ve seen Art ask the same question three different ways to get the answer he needs,” Fuller said. “He has spent so much of his adult life serving others and he is very committed to all the people that he serves.”