Jennifer Clarke – For The Record

“Making Bridge City our home has been a blessing,” says Ellen Nickum. She and her husband, Bill Nickum moved to Bridge City 50 years ago, just three days after they married. They were married on the evening of Saturday, August 21, 1965 having met in college three years earlier. The following Monday, Ellen began her job as an educator at Hatton Elementary.

In 1962, they met while attending Jacksonville College in Jacksonville, Texas. Both Mr. and Mrs. Nickum are graduates of Lamar University. Ellen graduated in 1965 with a degree in elementary education, and Bill graduated in 1968 with a degree in business. They moved to Bridge City after Ellen was offered a position.

“I applied at the district because I was told it was good. Mr. Bell was the principal at Hatton at that time. I was introduced as a new bride and a new teacher,” says Mrs. Nickum.

She recalls coming to Bridge City to look for a place to live. Dr. Sims required that all employees of the district live in Bridge City. She entered a place called Penny’s without even knowing what type of business it was, and asked if they had a paper.

“That was the first time I ever saw the Penny Record,” she recalls. “There were only four apartments in the whole town, and the coaches came in July and took all of those.” In the paper, she found a little house on Shady Drive, “it has since been torn down.” In those days, they had no air conditioning at Hatton, no air conditioning in the car, and no television. “On Tuesday nights, we would raise the windows. We lived across the street from Sparkle Paradise, and they had the Boogie Kings on Tuesday nights. It was our entertainment.”

The following February, they were able to get a television.

“We were so excited. We brought all of our friends over, turned it on, and the picture was no bigger than two inches. We had to return it, but we were still excited.”

They came to Bridge City where they had no family or friends. They lived on Ellen’s monthly salary of $325 while Bill finished school. “We ate off a very limited menu. I don’t think anyone would want the recipes. It was often hot dogs on Sundays,” laughs Ellen. But the people of Bridge City welcomed them like family. J.B. and Inez Jones treated them like their own children. Inez Jones was the librarian near Ellen, and they became incredibly close.

“We fell in love with the people of Bridge City.” Bill Nickum decided to open an agency in town because of the relationships they had formed here.

Things may not have been easy. “But we were happy,” asserts Ellen Nickum

Ellen taught at Hatton for three years before her daughter Angela (Nickum) Haynes was born in 1969. The following year, her daughter Alyson (Nickum) Smith was born on July 7, 1970, the same day Prairie View officially became Bridge City. No leaves of absence were available during that time in the school systems. Mrs. Nickum was asked to return to teaching, and then a homebound program was developed. While working on the homebound program, their son John Nickum was born, and Ellen continued to work on the homebound program with BCISD until this year.

All three of her children graduated from Bridge City High School and were very active through the school and the community. Her two girls were the only two sisters to be named Miss Bridge City. Her daughter Angela graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in communications disorders; daughter Alyson graduated from Lamar University and is working as a flight nurse out of St. Elizabeth; John Nickum received his healthcare administration degree from UTMB Galveston and is a State Farm agent in Vidor.

They have also cared for their aging parents. Mr. Nickum’s father lived with them for three years, and Ellen’s parents came to live with them as well. While they had sitters during the day, her parents required around the clock care and they were happy to have an opportunity to care for their elderly parents. During this time, they also experienced the birth of their nine grandchildren.

The Nickums say they have a very busy and full life, but they have also made time to be an integral part of the community that gave so abundantly to them. “We have had so many people mentor to us that made us able to be what we are today,” says Ellen Nickum. Not only did the community take them in, but they found value in building relationships through their many activities and engagements. They were members of Circle Drive Baptist Church for twenty five years, and they now belong to Second Baptist Church of Bridge City and have been members there for 25 years. “We made many friends and formed lasting relationships through church.”

Both Bill and Ellen Nickum have been actively involved in community organizations and both have been awarded for their service. Ellen has been involved in women’s business organizations in Bridge City and Port Arthur and is a member of Theta Omega having served in all offices of her chapter. Mr. Nickum has served the Chamber and Rotary and is still an active member. He has served on several committees as well. He has received several awards including Rotarian of the Year, Distinguished Rotarian, Business of the Year and Small Businessman of the Year. The Nickums also served as parade marshall in Bridge City.

Ellen Nickum worked with the Bridge City School District for 49 years. She had an incredible journey through the district, and she attributes that to “the incredible support from the community and administration. It is the only place I ever taught.” Mrs. Nickum has since retired from the district where she worked through the terms of seven superintendents, but she is still very active in the community. She opened ANE Insurance on Texas Avenue in Bridge City in 2012. And Bill Nickum continues with his business as a State Farm agent in Bridge City.

“With the exception of two storms,” says Ellen, “everything here has been good. Rita was devastating to Bill and the community. And Ike was very bad, but we knew the people here would survive because we are a close community, and we help each other. We are a better community because of it. We had to reach out.”

The Nickums are known for always being together. “We do everything together. We shop together. We travel together.” They travel extensively, but they don’t do it alone. The family has a vacation every year, and it includes their children and all nine grandchildren.

Last year, all 17 of them went to New York, and this year, they went to Gulf Shores, Ala. They have been to Disney World, on a cruise, all kinds of places.

“The great thing is, it doesn’t matter where we go, even the kids will tell you, we are all together,” says Mrs. Nickum. They have repeated this tradition for 40 years. They also make a Christmas picture every year and send out many cards, and it includes the whole family. This tradition began 45 years ago. Ellen is proud of these traditions that keep her family close, “Whatever we do, we do it together. When the kids were young, they were with us whatever we were doing. We really aren’t ever apart.”

When asked the secret to all of their success, Ellen Nickum suggests: “God has to be first in your own individual life and also your home. Prayer is of necessity.”

It has worked for them. Fifty successful years of marriage with a happy family and successful businesses, and the support and love of their community.

And it is this commitment to family, faith, and community perhaps that has kept the Nickums in the heart of their hometown.