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2001 Distinguished Alumna:
Dr. Jacquelyn Mabin Nickerson '55

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On Union Avenue, just north of Franklin Street in Grand Rapids, lived the Mabin family, the only African American family in the neighborhood in the 1940s. Young Jacquie Mabin grew up surrounded by Dutch Christian Reformed people.
"I was fascinated by these Dutch folk," recalled Jacquie, who now goes by the full name and title of Dr. Jacquelyn Nickerson, Associate Professor of Education, Emerita, Michigan State University.

"The Dutch people would spend entire Saturdays cleaning their homes and scrubbing their porches," she said. "I thought it was neat that they cared so much about their homes and community."

The Mabins attended First Community African Methodist Episcopal Church on James and Logan. Jacquie sang in the choir.

"I remember my early days of schooling at Madison School," she said. "I always enjoyed school. I was a shy girl and school work gave me a focus away from the outside world."

Jacquie's mom, a former teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in Arkansas, fueled the youngster's classroom successes. Her other major interest - travel - came from her father. Since Jacquie's dad was a mechanic for the Pere Marquette railroad, the family received free train travel.

Jacquie always assumed she would go to college and had some interesting choices. Her uncle and aunt from Los Angeles offered to pay for her college tuition at either USC or UCLA. But shortly after the time of her June, 1948 graduation, her dad passed away.

"I had to stay home," Jacquie said of that difficult time.
She began her schooling at Grand Rapids Junior College in social work, but changed to pre-education. She worked summers at the United Methodist Community House and the Urban League Community Center as a youth leader and nursery attendant.

To finish her college years, Jacquie turned to an unlikely choice for African Americans at that time: Calvin College.
"Calvin was the epitome of educational excellence," said Jacquie. "The scholarship was high and the school was so well respected. I figured I could go to an outstanding school right in my own backyard."

It was a challenge to be one of just three African Americans on the Franklin campus, because she felt as though she was always the focus of attention. "I talked my husband-to-be, Don, into attending Calvin, too," she said. "He started in mid-year after me, and eventually graduated with a degree in chemistry."
Jacquie and Don were married in 1952 and soon after, son Jeffry was born. Jacquie dropped out of Calvin briefly to care for her son while Don finished his program. But she was determined to finish and become a teacher.

"I remember walking to my mother's house with baby Jeffry, leaving him there and then walking to Calvin for classes," she said. "Some winter days were awful and those blocks seemed so long, but I was motivated and my mother was supportive through prayer and taking care of my son."

Jacquie graduated with an education degree. Her favorite course at Calvin was philosophy with legendary professor William Harry Jellema. In fact, on a living room table in her East Lansing, Mich., home, are three ornately bound volumes with a Calvin pedigree.

"I've kept my three textbooks from Professor Jellema's class all these years," she said. "I know the importance of ideas and training the mind." She's turned down offers by friends to buy them - Plato's Republic, Plato's Dialogues and Of the Nature of Things by Lucretius. Written inside: "Jacquelyn Mabin, Calvin College."

After graduation, Jacquie landed a teaching job at Coldbrook School on the north side of Grand Rapids. After five years of teaching, she applied to a new venture out of Michigan State University for training student teachers, called the Elementary Intern Program. Jacquie worked as an intern consultant, providing opportunities for central city students and teachers.
In 1966, husband Don received a Ph.D. from Michigan State and accepted an appointment in the university's education department. At the same time, Jacquie was offered a position at MSU's Mott Institute for Community Improvement. She developed field experiences in urban education in Detroit, Flint and Lansing. During this time, Michigan Governor William Milliken appointed her to the Northern Michigan University Board of Governors, where she eventually served as chairperson.

"At-risk children have problems in school," she said, "but these problems can be solved. Kids feel good about themselves when they learn, so the solid academics must be partnered with an understanding of child development and how to reach different kids."

Jacquie has continued her interest in urban education as a speaker and consultant, and is currently the co-leader of a mentoring group that has taken 25 middle school girls from the Lansing Public School system under its wing.

"Children, especially those who live in our cities, need positive people and positive messages. We must always try to provide inspiring and uplifting experiences," she said.

In retirement, Jacquie takes more time for gardening and traveling and to serve her church, All Saints Episcopal, as a Lay Eucharistic Minister II (which means taking and administering the sacrament to the sick and shut-in). She's also particularly proud of son Jeffry and daughter Susan and her three grandchildren.

There is one other cause about which she's become passionate in recent years.

"I feel very blessed," she said. "Although my husband Don passed away in 1996 and I have overcome a bout with breast cancer, I think about God's goodness and strength and draw upon those things." Jacquie has since counseled at least a dozen women who also have breast cancer and sees that as a new ministry to which God has called her.

From Union Avenue to Calvin College to urban education expert, Jacquelyn Nickerson sought God's leading and displayed uncommon determination to help others. Her bright smile and gracious demeanor portray a life of dignified grace and persistent optimism.

"My mother's prayers got through," she said. "She was a teacher; I was a teacher. We're all teachers in some way. With prayer and good teachers along the way, amazing things can happen."

Nominate a Calvin alum for the Distinguished Alumni Award. Nominations for the 2002 awards are due October 1, 2001.

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