When children need help, J.R. Nicholas hits the road.

Published 8:28 pm Tuesday, December 8, 2009

J.R Nicholas wears his pride. A black jacket with Alcazar Shrine patches and “J.R.” inscribed in gold lettering. A black baseball hat with a popular Warner Brothers cartoon character spinning its feet, forever in motion, forever on the go. A Road Runner. Because that’s what Nicholas is. He runs the roads for the Shrine, carrying handicapped and hurt children to hospitals for care.

Since 1994 he had made 153 trips with children and their families from this Greenville to another. He carries them in a 15-passenger van to the Shriners Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina where they receive treatment from any number of orthopedic problems, including scoliosis, twisted feet or hands, and bone disease.

153 trips. Over 107,000 miles. All to give a child the chance at a better life.

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A mason since 1972 and shiner since 1983, the Greenville lodge recently honored Nicholas for his years of service.

“The kids, they don’t know realize that they’re handicapped,” said Nicholas. “In June of 1994, they asked me if I wanted to make a trip and I’ve been making trips ever since. The Shriners pay expenses and all it costs me is time. It’s been very inspiring.”

Nicholas said he used to take those trips by himself, but now, at 75, he has a co-driver with him. The trips cost the families nothing and neither does the treatment.

“If it’s the first trip the father and mother can go,” said Nicholas. “The second trip it’s either the father or mother and patient. And when they go for surgery, both parents can go again.”

Nicholas said he transported one child who needed 25 surgeries to walk again, another who needed a rod inserted into the back to make it straight again, and one who had to have her lower leg amputated because an accidental shooting shattered the bone.

Nicholas said he’s proud of those trips, but is equally proud of his service as a Freemason, calling it one of the best decisions he ever made. The Eureka Lodge is known for its camp stew, sold during the fall and winter months, and Nicholas said he takes pride in keeping the pots washed and ready for each stew sale. The sale, he said, allows the lodge and Eastern Star to offset their expenses, while also keeping membership dues the same.

“I bet you I have washed a thousand pots,” he said. “Years ago, I talked them out of using those cast iron pots and we went to the aluminum ones, like the Army. They’re a little bit easier to handle.”

In the hallway to the lodge’s temple, Nicholas points out familiar names and faces. Color and black and white photographs line the wall; Greenville citizens who have all served as the lodge’s Worshipful Master, just as Nicholas did in 1976. Nicholas said when he joined the lodge there was over 200 members. Now membership has fallen to 92, he said.

“I just don’t think the people have the time like they used to,” he said. “If they have kids, they have to worry about what they’re doing in school and what activities they’re involved in. Being a mason takes up a good portion of your time.”

But still, 37 years later, Nicholas said freemasonry, and everything he has participated in, from bingo games to parades, remains meaningful to him.