By Steve Holt, Copy Editor
Most current ACU students never knew “Mama ‘Foose,” but they likely would have wanted to. During her 12-year tenure as director of food services for the university, Nancy Zickefoose touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of students.
Nancy, who died Saturday, Jan. 18, after a long bout with cancer, acted as a Sigma Theta Chi sponsor, mother of three, foster mother of dozens and friend to many in addition to her position with food services from 1973-1985.
“My mother was a mother to hundreds of college kids,” said Trey Zickefoose, 44-year-old son of Nancy. “Our house was always open to any kid with a problem. I can’t even imagine how many people’s lives she touched.”
Husband Ben Zickefoose, associate professor of exercise science and health, was married to Nancy for 50 years as of June 8, 2002. He describes his wife as “self-made” because she only went to a little over a year of college.
“She knew food service,” Ben said. “She didn’t get that through a college education, she got it through experience.”
Nancy’s work and life were about service. She worked in private catering for a few years before coming to ACU’s food services. After overseeing the president’s dining room and organizing banquets for the university, Nancy was promoted to head of food services. It was during this time that she became a club sponsor, earned her nickname and endeared herself to many in the ACU community.
Dr. Carl Brecheen, professor of Bible, missions and ministry, described Nancy as “talented, energetic, a good mom and wife, faithful and full of integrity.”
“She had a gift for people that put her in public positions,” Brecheen said.
Nancy and Ben have been members at University Church of Christ since their college days, and Ben even served as assistant youth minister there for 13 years. Dr. Eddie Sharp, University minister and adjunct faculty of Bible, missions and ministry, said her certainty of the future fueled her resilience on earth.
“Her confidence in her eternal life made it possible to withstand great suffering without complaining,” Sharp said.
Nancy didn’t go down easy, but rather fought aggressively against the disease until her passing. Ben said she went through seven chemotherapy treatments and was always open to new treatment options.
“Literally, we were living one day at a time and she never talked about, ‘I think I’m dying,’ Ben said. “She was always positive about ‘what we can do.’
“We’ve never seen anybody able to hang onto life so tenaciously,” Sharp said. “It was because of her great faith.”
This work ethic and resiliency, Ben said, was what he admired most about his wife.
“The only time she missed work was when she had to go to the doctor or was hospitalized,” Ben said.
Nancy worked full time as a secretary at Precision Unlimited, which specializes in kitchen equipment retail and repair, for nine years up until just nine months before her passing. Ben said that at Nancy’s memorial service, several of her co-workers told how they felt guilty if they called in sick to work and she was there, despite fighting cancer.
“She always depended on the Lord and never was discouraged,” said Ron Smith, owner of Precision Unlimited and fellow University Church member. “She was very forthcoming if you asked her what she could do. She always did what she said.”
Daughter Tonja Hardcastle, who is 42 and lives in Denison, said her mother’s support and help in raising the kids are what she most loved about Nancy.
“She helped me through times most mothers wouldn’t,” Hardcastle said.
Nancy and Ben’s other daughter, Debi Allen, said she remembers most vividly Nancy the foster mother.
“They brought in 20 or so newborns and gave them the same love as they did us,” said Allen, who is 47 and lives in Moorsville, N.C. “Love, love, love-that’s all she was.”
Trey, who spent time with his mother during her final days, said he knows his mother is in a good place now.
“Since I was with her so much at the end, I’ve got a real peace about it,” Trey said. “I just know she’s got the biggest house on the block. She’s probably cookin’ something.
A week and a half after her death, Ben misses his late wife.
“I miss going home to take care of her. I didn’t mind doing that,” Ben said. “Every once in a while the thought passes through my mind, ‘What am I going to fix her for lunch today?'”
Trey misses his mom’s smile and said there will always be a sense of pride attached to the name “Zickefoose.”
“I’m proud of the name,” Trey said. “I’m proud of mom.”