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Evangel to recognize Dr. Joe Nicholson with Trees of Honor award

Published on Oct 17, 2016 by Paul K. Logsdon


SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The Evangel University Alumni Association will honor Dr. Joe Nicholson, who served more than 30 years as a professor of music and as chair of the Department of Music, on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016.

The Trees of Honor ceremony will be held at 11 a.m., during the Homecoming Celebration Luncheon in the University Plaza Convention Center. He will be recognized along with three other members of the Evangel family.

“I am honored and humbled to be chosen to receive the Trees of Honor from Evangel, the university I most identify with and support wholeheartedly,” said Dr. Nicholson.

He added that during his time at Evangel he personally planted many trees, several of which are still growing and beautifying the campus.

Trees of Honor

The Trees of Honor project began as an idea formed by a small group of graduates from the early 1960s and took root following Springfield’s great ice storm of 2007. The idea was to help replace lost trees and restore the natural beauty of the campus.

Trees have been planted on Evangel’s campus in acknowledgement of the legacy of service each of the recipients has provided to the university. An engraved bronze plaque is placed at the base of each tree as a permanent tribute to the person being honored.

Deep roots

Dr. Joe Nicholson (front right) and his wife, Jo Ellen, (front left) with most of their their grand kids. Also on the front row are Alyssa (Ausbury ’12) Easter and Rachelle (Bischoff ’03) Steffen ’03. On the back row are Caleb Steffen ’06, Stacy Steffen (did not attend EU), Austin Ausbury ’14, Savanna Steffen (current student) and Mike Steffen ’04. // (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

To this day, he’s affectionately known as Dr. Joe. That’s just one indication of the relationships Dr. Joseph M. Nicholson established during his 31 years as an Evangel professor.

It’s also been a way to differentiate him from the other Nicholsons who have helped to populate the university over the years! While Dr. Joe served as professor and chair of the Music Department during a career spanning from 1960 to 1991, his wife, Jo Ellen, his brother, Virgil, and his sister-in-law, Millie, also served in various faculty roles.

His daughter, Jozette Ausbury, is carrying on the legacy as the administrative assistant in the Department of Natural and Applied Sciences.

In all, the reported count is 27 family members who have been associated directly with Evangel in some capacity, including his three children who all graduated from Evangel — Jorita Steffen ’79, Joe Nicholson III ’82 and Jozette Ausbury ’84.

During his tenure, Dr. Joe’s work ran the gamut from directing choral and instrumental ensembles, to lecturing, to leading the department.

He also served as principal trombonist in the Springfield Symphony Orchestra and the Springfield Brass Quintet. Upon his retirement from Evangel, he served as vice president for Academic Affairs at Berean (now Global) University for another eight years.

In addition to his numerous publications while teaching, he has continued writing in retirement. Dr. Joe completed an Independent Study Textbook on church music for Global University, and he contributed the music portion of the Encyclopedia of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity.

Praise for a peer

“I have known Joe Nicholson since the fall of 1963, as a former teacher, treasured mentor, esteemed colleague, outstanding department chairman, and close family friend,” said Professor Emeritus John Shows, who served in the music department with Dr. Joe.

“While I was a student at Evangel, Joe was in the pursuit of his doctorate at UMKC. Upon completion of his degree he became the first musician in Assemblies of God higher education to complete a doctorate . . . and he also became the first person in the U.S. to be awarded a D.M.A. in trombone performance!

“Dr. Joe set high standards as a music professor,” Shows continued. “Students would say he was thorough and tough, but always fair. He expected focused effort and commitment from his students. In return, they received his constant encouragement. He loved his students and always wanted the best for them. There are music professionals around the globe that have been stamped by Dr. Joe!

“As music department chair, Dr. Joe was instrumental in stabilizing the Evangel Music Department at a critical time in its history. He was a visionary for the strategic position that strong Christian musicians would play both in and out of the church. In 1970, Dr. Joe was responsible for the Evangel Music Department being named an accredited member of the National Association of Schools of Music. That achievement allowed the music department to be positioned as a respected leader in all of Christian higher education,” said Shows.

“This tree in honor of Dr. Joe Nicholson will represent a person with deep Christian commitment, uncommon vision, and unquestioned integrity.”


Additional Trees of Honor award recipients for 2016 include:

  • Dr. Terry Bleek, former professor of New Testament, Greek and Biblical Theology at CBC and EU.
  • Sandra Sorbo, the driving force of women’s athletics at Evangel for more than three decades.

For more information, contact the Evangel University Alumni Relations Department at (417) 865-2811, ext. 7333.