“Take a seat and grab a Werthers,” Bertha Nichols said while sitting down in her plush, red chair.
Nichols, a 96-year-old church pianist, teacher and longtime resident of Eudora, is picturesque in her Elm Street home with a brick, front staircase and garden of blooming irises.
But after 67 years in Eudora, Nichols is moving to Washington, to live with her granddaughter, Marni Hurley.
In all her roles throughout the past six decades, Nichols has touched the lives of many and as she put it herself several times, “had a wonderful life.”
Living in Eudora
Nichols was born in 1924 “somewhere in the middle” of 10 brothers and sisters in Arkansas. She lived in Arkansas until 1954 when Nichols and her first husband, Richard Ford Jr., moved to Eudora after he accepted a position at the Co-op Refinery.
“Eudora was a wonderful place to come because everyone was so friendly,” Nichols said. “It was small enough that I could mix in with people.”
Nichols worked at the telephone company in Lawrence and as a front office clerk at the Lawrence Journal-World while raising her three kids.
Later in life, Nichols graduated from the University of Kansas in 1972 with a bachelor of science in education. She was in her 40s while in school and commuted from Eudora to the university, all while taking care of Hurley.
Beverly Emerson, Nichols’ daughter, was studying at Pittsburg State at the time so Hurley moved in with Nichols.
“I kept her for three years while her mother went to college,” Nichols said. “So her and I are very close.”
The phone rang and Nichols answered with excitement to hear from Hurley, who was on her way to the house from the airport. She hung up the phone with a big smile, “Oh I haven’t seen her in years.”
Ford Jr. died in 1973. Nichols has been involved with the Eudora United Methodist Church since moving to Eudora and it was through the church that she met Bill Nichols, whom she married in 1985.
Nichols said with Bill, she was fortunate enough to travel to Israel and the Galapagos Islands. She spent a year living with one of her sons, Michael Ford, in Brussels.
Nichols was also a fourth and fifth grade teacher in Eudora and said she loved being a teacher.
“Some of my kids couldn’t stand me and some of them held me up here,” Nichols said and gestured above her head. “They tell me I was a tough teacher.”
Many of her students still remember her and left well wishes on a Facebook post encouraging community members to drop a card in Nichols’ mailbox last July for her 96th birthday. The card initiative was organized by Barb Keltner, a member of the church and a friend of Nichols.
“There was just an outpouring of people from everywhere,” Keltner said.
In the six decades Nichols has spent in Eudora, the biggest change she’s seen is in accessibility. Now, she said, everyone goes to Lawrence or Kansas City to get things that Eudora doesn’t have, but it used to be that Eudora had specialty stores and a grocery store just up the hill from her home.
“It’s too easy to get everywhere nowadays,” Nichols said. “Just get on the highway and take off.”
But that’s not to say she doesn’t love Eudora, just that it’s changed. Nichols said her friends and her church are the things she’ll miss the most when she leaves.
“Just the friendliness and the familiarity of the type of living,” Nichols said. “It’s just a nice friendly place.”
Nichols said she’ll be sad to leave her step-children and grandchildren who still live in or near Eudora, but that the rest of her family is far away. Nichols has been widowed since 2000.
“I don’t have any blood-kin [here], but I have some wonderful step-children,” Nichols said.
Tickling the ivories
While growing up, Nichols’ mother worked for the Works Progress Administration as a piano teacher. This was the start of her love for music as her mother always had “gobs” of sheet music and records in the house.
Nichols now has an organ and piano in her sitting room, the second of which was a graduation gift from her husband. Nichols said she’s been playing piano, “ever since I was born.”
“I like music and people,” Nichols said. “And the Lord, of course.”
Nichols said she’s sad to leave her piano and organ here as she won’t have the space for them at Hurley’s house in Washington. She hopes to get a keyboard piano there and give her piano here to a young kid taking lessons.
“I would like to give it to somebody that’s taking lessons, some child that can’t afford it,” Nichols said. “Do you know ‘Boogie Woogie’?”
The spry 96-year-old popped up, demonstrated the dance, and then sat down at her piano to pound out the tune from her youth.
Nichols isn’t sure what day she’s leaving Eudora, but today (Sunday) she’ll play “How Great Thou Art” at church where she’ll be honored by the congregation after a brief word from Connie Meyers.
Meyers said just as the church is a huge part of Nichols’ life, Nichols is a huge part of the church. Nichols has served in several positions at Eudora United Methodist and has, of course, been in every musical position she could.
“We’re going to miss her,” Meyers said. “I think she’s going to leave a void, but I also think she needs to be with family.”
In Washington, Nichols will be with Hurley and near two additional grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
“I’ve had a good life, and I’ve loved Eudora,” Nichols said. “No matter where I go, or what I do, Eudora is home.”
Reach reporter Cami Koons at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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