Nancy Erickson '69 Makes Things Better for Those Around Her

Nancy Erickson '69 Makes Things Better for Those Around Her

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

This story was originally published in the 2021 Midland Magazine.

A life of service best defines the life of the Rev. Nancy Erickson. The 1969 Midland Lutheran College graduate has spent most of her professional career doing her part to make the world a better place for those who might need a helping hand. “I’ve always been a fan of the underdog,” said Erickson, who retired in 2017 from her post as associate pastor at First-Plymouth Congregational Church in Lincoln.

Raised in rural Saunders County between Ceresco and Wahoo, Erickson, because of a health issue, was schooled at home until the middle of her high school years. Using intercoms at home and at school to communicate with teachers, it was remote learning circa 1960s. Following graduation from high school, her next stop was Midland. “I didn’t want to be far from home and was very impressed on my tour,” Erickson said. “I have very fond memories of Midland, my instructors, and professors.”

Like so many to pass through the halls of Midland, Erickson was influenced in her collegiate years by her advisor, Dr. Caryl Steyer. “I had a really good advisor,” Erickson said. “He worked with me a lot and he really encouraged me to think bigger. I remember one time he told me that when I’m feeling badly, do something for somebody else. That makes sense.”

Graduating from Midland in 1969 with a double major in psychology and sociology, Erickson went on to earn a master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Nebraska before embarking on a decades long career of being there for others.

Shortly after graduating from Midland, Erickson was honored with the Gallantry Award for her service to Easter Seals of Nebraska and her work with individuals with disabilities and special needs. It was also in 1972 when Erickson was elected president of the startup League of Human Dignity, a local advocacy group established to promote independent living for people with disabilities.

Two years later, Erickson was tabbed by Gov. Jim Exon to serve on the Governor’s Committee for the Employment of the Handicapped – that in addition to her gubernatorial appointment to the newly established Public Buildings Safety Advisory Committee. Four years later, Exon appointed her to the state’s Public Buildings Safety Advisory Board. Erickson’s service to the state continued under Gov. Bob Kerrey when in 1986 she was appointed to the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission. In the waning months of the 1980s, Erickson’s career took a turn when she enrolled as a seminarian at Yale Divinity School. That she ended up an ordained minister can be traced in part to her work for the Catholic church. “I was working for a selection research company and my job was working with Catholic dioceses all over the country who were looking for men to become priests,” Erickson said. “My job was to filter these men and analyze their responses. Doing this day in and day out – I thought I could do that.”

Finishing earning her Master of Divinity degree in 1989 in New Haven, Connecticut, Erickson was ordained at First- Plymouth Congregational Church in Lincoln, where she served as associate pastor from 2004 until her retirement in 2017. Prior to her parish duties, Erickson made time to minister to segments of society others often look past. Shortly after ordination she was director of Lincoln's Urban Ministries and served as the first chaplain of the Capitol City’s adult detention facility. Erickson later became director of a homeless shelter in Lincoln and was coordinator of an outpatient treatment program at a drug and alcohol center for women.

Women troubled with substance abuse or left homeless especially tugged at Erickson’s heart. “I learned so much at the homeless shelter,” Erickson said. “People say it was so wonderful that you helped those poor people, but it was very mutual. I learned so much from them.”

By the early 2000s, Erickson had settled into her role as associate pastor at First-Plymouth, where her primary responsibilities included adult education, pastoral counseling, LGBTQ Ministry and Women’s Ministry (an organization she founded).

Over the course of her years of service, Erickson has been honored time and time again for her work with advocacy groups. Included in her accolades are the Valiant Nebraska Award from the Easter Seal Society, the Midtown Sertoma Club’s Service to Mankind Award, the End Hunger Award sponsored by the Nebraska Pantry Network of Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska.

Another honor bestowed to her was from her alma mater, the Alumni Achievement Award presented by Midland in 1984. Erickson said she recently has reconnected with her sisters of Phi Omega sorority. “One of my sorority sisters started getting us together quarterly, and now I’m back in touch with so many people, back with my Midland friends,” Erickson said. “We had a 50th reunion dinner at the country club. It was so good to see those folks again. That helped me get reconnected.”