LEWISTON — Dorothy Nickerson never found out why her husband of 51 years felt such a close bond with folks who live on society’s edges.
“He always had that,” Dorothy said. “I don’t know why.”
That drive to help led George Nickerson, a homeless worker in the 1970s, to explore the back alleys and hidden gullies of Bangor. Then, the drive brought him to Lewiston.
“He went down into the jungles and talked with the men,” Dorothy said. “He loved it.”
In 1980, using $5,000 in proceeds of a charity walk, George Nickerson purchased an apartment building at the corner of Lincoln and Cedar streets in Lewiston. It became Hope Haven Gospel Mission.
On Wednesday, Dorothy will meet with family and friends at a memorial service for George, who died Feb. 24 at 71 years old. He was in a Lakeland, Fla., where he and Dorothy spent their winters, when he succumbed to pneumonia and pulmonary fibrosis.
The ceremony is scheduled for 1 p.m. at East Auburn Baptist Church, 560 Park Ave., Auburn.
Among the attendees will be the Rev. Doug Taylor, who was helped by Nickerson when he was young.
“I was bouncing from homeless mission to soup tent to rehab when he found me,” Taylor said Monday. “You could feel that he was nonjudgmental.”
At the time, Taylor was working in local restaurants as a dishwasher. When he said he wanted to cook, Nickerson took him to the shelter’s thrift store and gave him three cook uniforms.
“He was a good guy,” Taylor said. “He liked to laugh, but he could be very stern and very serious.”
After all, he was raising a family in an apartment at the shelter, Taylor said.
“He had to protect everybody in the mission,” he said.
Nickerson came to homeless work after listening to sermons at missions, hearing the preachers quote the Bible and watching the men’s reactions. Before long, he told himself he could conduct services, too.
The work led him to the Bangor Rescue Mission, where he worked for several years before he struck out on his own. He and Dorothy settled on Lewiston because there seemed to be lots of need and few services.
After they bought the mission building, George went to work. The skilled carpenter and contractor fixed up the building.
The couple opened a thrift store on the street level to help fund the charity.
Meanwhile, they finished raising their five children. Dorothy also worked steadily, running the kitchen and a children’s ministry.
Despite the many desperate people she met — and the mission’s location in the city’s rough “Little Canada” neighborhood — Dorothy was rarely scared, she said.
“When God’s calling you into the ministry, you don’t worry about those things,” she said.
In 1987, the couple left the mission. George returned to contracting and managed several local properties. He also continued to mission locally and abroad. A favorite destination was Japan, where he traveled six times.
He also left a legacy in Lewiston-Auburn. The mission continues to operate, paying off its mortgage last fall.
Taylor, who created The Jesus Party children’s ministry in the 1990s, credited George Nickerson as an example to follow.
He showed how passionate he was for the people he served by living in the shelter, Taylor said.
Taylor did the same thing when he and his wife, Sonia, started their ministry in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, he said. They sold their house near Bates College and bought a home on Bates Street.
They still hold meetings on the first floor and live on the second.
“He would not just work with the homeless from afar,” Taylor said. “He had to go to the people.”