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If you didn’t know Randy Nicholson’s (’59) story, you might never suspect that the entrepreneur, benefactor and influential former ACU trustee faced extreme adversity and obstacles from the beginning of his life. Yet those circumstances that were beyond his control shaped the man he became – someone who helped others and lived generously.
At 18 months old, Nicholson and his siblings were placed in Boles Children’s Home in Quinlan, Texas after their parents could no longer care for them. There, he began learning about Christ, generosity, gratitude and the value of working hard. Regular chores at Boles Home taught responsibility and included working in the fields, tending to the animals and milking cows. Nicholson was also active in FFA and worked for Safeway supermarkets as a stocker, sacker and checker.
Nicholson’s college decision was heavily influenced by one of his Boles Home dorm supervisors, Abilene Christian College alumnus Robert Harold “Tex” Williams (’50). As for his major, Nicholson developed an early interest in accounting while working with Claude Covey, who did the accounting for Boles Home, during high school.
Nicholson chose not to accept the free tuition offered to Abilene Christian students who grew up in an orphanage. He felt he had been given much during his time at Boles Home and that it was time for him to start paying his own way. He worked full time at an Abilene Safeway and still managed to graduate in four years with a degree in accounting.
While at ACC, caring mentors and friends continued to shape Nicholson’s faith and character. His friendship with Hal McGlothlin (’58) led to multiple work experiences and partnerships with McGlothlin family businesses such as Radio London, United Network, Bank of Commerce, Locus Homes International, LaJet and even an attempt at forming a new television network. Nicholson also gained experience in the self-serve gasoline business as founder, president, chief operating officer and board member of E-Z Serve, and he also helped pioneer pay-at-the-pump equipment as chair and CEO of AutoGas Systems Inc.
Nicholson remained very active with his alma mater until his death in December 2020 because he felt strongly that a quality Christian education should be affordable and accessible to all students who want to learn in a Christ-centered environment. He served on the ACU Board of Trustees for 29 years. He also chaired the investment committee from its inception in the 1980’s until February 2010. When ACU established a separate entity to handle its endowment – the Abilene Christian Investment Management Company (ACIMCO) – in 2009, Nicholson served as the first chairman of the board.
He also played a large role in the land purchase to expand ACU in 1981 and was one of four individuals who contributed money to establish Student Trading and Research (STAR), a student-managed fund in the College of Business Administration. Nicholson worked closely with the past deans of COBA to help the college equip its graduates to be influential Christians in the business world. Most recently, he was on the advisory board for the Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing (NEXT) Lab.
Nicholson’s greatest partnership was with fellow ACC student Barbara Hart (’59), and they married in 1957. The pair were married 59 years until Barbara’s death in January 2017. Those who knew Randy knew how much his wife, daughter Randa (Nicholson ’88) Upp, son-in-law Jeff Upp (’86) and grandson Braden (’17) meant to him.
Nicholson’s presence continues to be felt as he generously gave to others for causes that were dear to his heart. One of the legacies is the Nicholson-Upp Family Endowed Scholarship for the College of Business. “Dad felt compelled to help others, especially those who started from a disadvantaged place in life,” said his daughter, Randa Upp. “He knew the importance of having someone believe in you and being given a chance.” Randa recently told us about her father and the legacy he left behind.
Who inspired him?
Coach Garvin Beauchamp (’41) formed a relationship with Dad during his freshman year at ACC when Dad stayed with him until the new residence hall, Edwards, was ready for students to move in. Later, at the beginning of Dad’s sophomore year, Coach Beauchamp encouraged him to find a new group of friends. This advice changed the path that he was on. Early in Dad’s career, Hal McGlothlin (one of those new friends) encouraged him to sell his accounting practice and come to work for the McGlothlin family business, which placed Dad in a position to have many unique business experiences. Hal treated people with kindness regardless of who they were. This impacted Dad deeply. H.E. Hart, the father of Barbara Hart, inspired him in several ways. Mr. Hart was a man of integrity. He was the spiritual leader of his home and a man with an incredible work ethic. Nick Nicholson, Dad’s cousin who was the head football coach at ACC while he was there, was a wonderful example for Dad in the way that he lived his life, cared for his family and treated others. W.C. “Dub” Orr (’50) and Ray McGlothlin Jr. were two men who inspired him in his approach to business. Dr. Overton Faubus made a huge impact on Dad. He gave Dad advice about building credit which later put him in a position to be able to borrow the money needed to purchase an accounting firm.
What was his favorite ACU memory?
Many of Dad’s favorite memories came from times with friends that spanned six decades of experiences together at ACU. Some of those memories were from the first mixer as a freshman in 1955, Sing Song and socials with Sub-T-16 and Chapel in Sewell Auditorium. Other favorite memories included seeing myself, nieces and nephew, future son-in-law, and grandson attend ACU. He was so proud to see his grandson, Braden, participate in STAR with Dr. Terry Pope and work with Jack Rich and the endowment.
A special memory for Dad was when he, Ray McGlothlin Jr., and Dub Orr were named the College of Business Administration’s Distinguished Business Leaders of the Year in 1996. That honor focused on something very special – three humble, godly men who relied on God and each other.
How did his faith impact his work and personal interactions?
Dad was often heard saying he knew what it was to be at the bottom of the social ladder. He also knew what it was like having everything given to him by people he would most likely never meet. This not only formed a spirit of humility in him, but also created a compassionate and generous heart.
He knew that nothing makes one person better than another person. He treated people the same whether they were a busboy at a restaurant or a powerful politician, a brilliant CEO or a famous celebrity. Dad had three families: his physical family, his spiritual family and his work family. Relationships were very important to him. He cared deeply for people. As Dad looked back on his life, he realized that the times that were hard – when he felt he was facing the greatest adversity – those were the times when God was placing him on a path for blessing. He was an encourager, and he looked for ways to be a part of the blessing for others who were facing adversity.
COBA’s vision is to inspire, equip and connect Christian business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. How do you think your dad lived out that vision in his work?
He wanted the quality of education in COBA to be top-notch while also providing practical application and experience. Dad felt that it was very important for professors to develop relationships with their students and for them to provide a godly example in and out of the classroom. He was constantly introducing people to each other. He would host luncheons and other gatherings to introduce people. He strongly believed in networking and relationships. He always wanted time with the students to encourage them that it didn’t matter where they started – what mattered is where they finished. He wanted them to know that their work and determination was important. He was always willing to encourage and mentor others.
What advice do you think Randy would give to current students to prepare them for their future?
- Your relationship with Jesus is the most important thing. Surround yourself with people who will always encourage you in your walk with Christ.
- Foster a spirit of gratitude. No matter what your situation – you are blessed. Focus on your blessings. “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
- Dedication and hard work go a long way. Don’t expect people to hand things to you. Go out and look for opportunities.
- Remain humble and treat everyone with respect.
- Seek out mentors and listen to their advice. Surround yourself with people who constantly challenge you to be a better person. “The way of the fool seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” Proverbs 12:15 “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end, you will be counted among the wise.” Proverbs 19:20
- Learn from your mistakes and don’t forget to forgive others of their mistakes
- Don’t forget to give back. No matter where you are in your life, you can always give back. You can give your time, your talent and/or your money. You can mentor those who are younger than you, and you can help people connect with each other and build a stronger network of relationships.
- Be content. Find a way to be happy regardless of your circumstances. Remember, looking to others to complete you is always a mistake. Find happiness in your relationship with God.