Amy Nickles, Attic Angel Association

IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Amy Nickles, chair, Attic Angel Association.

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?

It is extremely meaningful to advance the legacy of our 130-year-old Attic Angel Association, which has built the infrastructure for health and well-being in Madison and Dane County. For example, our early Attic Angels focused on raising money to build the city’s first hospital in 1903, we paid the salary of the first nurse to serve Madison families starting in 1908, and we filled a gap in quality education for low-income families in 1969 — now known as One City Schools. For seniors, we continue to be pioneers in nursing care and “well-retirement” living; our nonprofit Attic Angel Community senior living has roots going back to 1953.

I’ve served in many volunteer leadership capacities throughout Dane County and it’s an honor to be chair of Attic Angel Association in this milestone year, when we are inviting the public to celebrate life at every age with a party called Life is a Playground!

On the challenging side of being chair, myself and the Nominating Committee must fill at least 45 leadership positions — a daunting task because they are all volunteer and many are filled with serious responsibilities that impact the quality of life for many in Dane County.

Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?

Because Attic Angel Association is made up of more than 500 women volunteers, often as they are immersed in careers and other endeavors, I don’t have to look far. In fact, the reason I joined the Association was my mother-in-law, Dorcas Nickles. She was president from 1962–1964 and oversaw the opening of a history-making nursing home. In those days, the Association had no administrative employees, so it was up to the Angels to make all decisions related to finance, construction, human resources, maintenance, etc. From that one nursing facility, Attic Angel has grown to include independent and assisted living, as well as memory care and rehabilitation services.

While I pinpoint my mother-in-law, I admire everyone willing to advance their vision for a better future for others. All Attic Angel members serve children and seniors and raise money for grants to nonprofits that meet a pressing community need identified by the Angels, such as mental health for children, youth, and families. Since our official grants program began in 1983, we’ve given away more than $7 million, thanks in large part to the money raised from our three signature resale events that are open to the public.

What has been the high point of your career so far?

I have been fortunate to have many high points in each of the organizations for which I have volunteered. As chair of the Madison Children’s Museum board, I took part in one of the many moves to a larger location. As chair of the Blackhawk Council of Girl Scouts Board, I oversaw the building of the shelter at Camp Brandenburg. The MCM Benefit Sale of American Girl Products grossed over $13 million for charities while I was chair of that sale. Gilda’s Club Madison was built during my service as volunteer coordinator and board member.

Finally, as chair of Attic Angel Association this year, I will be a part of our 130-year Life is a Playground! celebration and fundraiser to build a sensory playground that will service children affected by early trauma, such as homelessness and autism. We know that providing children help in their earliest years sets the stage for success later in life. Working with the trauma-informed care experts at The Playing Field early learning center in Madison, I hope this fundraiser and eventual playground will be among the high points of my career!

Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

I would advise myself to avoid overextending my commitments. I have had a tendency to say yes to almost every request for volunteering. That’s because if it’s important, I want to help! Perhaps after this volunteer position, I will learn to say no, but my friends say, “not a chance!” So, maybe the advice I would give is actually for someone else’s 21-year-old self!



What would you say are the best things about living and working in Dane County?

Dane County is filled with opportunities to enrich your life. If you bike, as I do, there are excellent bike trails. Are you a swimmer or boater? The lakes are there for the taking. Plays, concerts, lectures, and museums — all are readily available. The best part of Dane County, however, is the wonderful people who inhabit it.

Do you have any secret talents or abilities that people would be surprised to discover?

As a high school student, I was on the synchronized swimming team. In my day in Michigan, about the only sports a girl could participate in were swimming and cheerleading. Thank heavens for Title IX! At any rate, when I was teaching in a private school in Brazil, I was able to use all my swimming and choreography skills to direct a water ballet show complete with costumes and music. The parents loved it!

What are your guilty pleasures?

I am obsessed with daylilies. I started out with just a few in my garden. Then I went to a daylily sale at Olbrich Gardens, and I was hooked. Daylilies come in almost every color and shape, and varieties can bloom from April to October. The most compelling aspect about them is each one has its own name. I now have over 50 varieties with entertaining names like Root Beer, Pink Panties, Mr. Giggles, and my personal favorite, Beautiful Amy. The final step in this obsession was buying official name labels for each one and putting them on a pole placed next to each bloom. I know I’m not alone. There are all sorts of daylily addicts out there!

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