Quintessential Volunteer, Nick Hawkey

by Vicki Bezems, Lifestyles over 50

A lot of what Nick Hawkey, Jr. of Kunkletown does, he does to
make someone smile. He spends most of his time volunteering – in
many roles – from ringing bells for the Salvation Army to serving
on the board of directors for the Dream Come True organization,
which grants wishes and gives scholarships to chronically and
terminally ill children. When I met Nick I sat down for a cup of
coffee with him and his wife, Millie, of 54 years, and heard
story after story of motorcycle rides, parades and building
projects he’s been involved in – all for the good of those who
are less fortunate in one way or another.

Nick started doing volunteer work in 1982 at his motorcycle shop
at the intersection of Routes 248 and 145 in the Lehigh Gap,
where he built custom show bikes. He realized that if he could
build them to sell, he could also build them to raise money for
charity, and make someone smile. He started to create mobile
displays and floats for memorials and parades, which he attached
to his motorcycle with a trailer or side car. From then on, he
has taken his motorcycle displays wherever one of his charities
needs him.

He has driven over 20,000 miles with his POW/MIA display and
participates in Rolling Thunder, the annual ride to Washington,
D.C. to promote the cause of veterans and POW/MIA’s. One of his
favorite memories is about one of the DC rides. He was parked
with his motorcycle and display alongside the Vietnam Veterans
Memorial Wall, when a woman walked over to him and said, “Thank
you. My brother was killed in Vietnam.”

Nick’s interest in veterans’ affairs started with his parents,
who both served in World War II. Nick himself served in the US
Marine Corps for two years and has been a member of the Marine
Corps League since 1977, raising money for the support of troops
and Marine Corps veterans and families. Nick has been involved in
the creation of at least five military memorials. He designed the
Korea/Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Lehigh Carbon Community
College Campus, dedicated in 2005 to honor the more than 200
Lehigh Valley residents killed or missing in action in the Korean
and Vietnam wars.

Another cause which Nick holds dear is children who are
disadvantaged or chronically and terminally ill. He began working
for chronically ill children in 1989 when a friend called him and
told him that his son, who had leukemia, needed $125,000 for a
bone marrow transplant. With the help of The Morning Call and
Becky’s Drive-in in Schnecksville,

Nick organized car and motor shows, auctions, and bowl-a-thons
that, in six months, brought in $132,000 for his friend’s son.
This set Nick on fire for children’s charities. He began to work
for Toys for Tots and the Lehigh Valley chapter of the Dream Come
True Organization, where he eventually served on the Board of
Directors. One of his favorite events with Dream Come True is
the Polar Express, which is an actual plane ride that takes a
group of chronically or terminally ill children to the “North
Pole” around Christmas.

Nick began to play Santa Claus in 1970. Nick and Millie had lost
their five and half year old granddaughter to kidney disease
after her third kidney transplant. While she was being treated at
the Mayo Clinic, Nick played Santa Claus to other chronically ill
children in the hospital there. “When you play Santa Claus, they
make a super hero out of you. You have chronically ill children
sitting in your lap…” At that, his voice broke and he was unable
to finish telling the story.
Christmas is not Nick’s only busy time. He also plays the Easter
Bunny for various events, and for all ages. On his volunteer work
in at least 3 nursing homes, he observes, “Most of the people in
nursing homes don’t get visitors except on the day before a
holiday. Most of them are lost souls.”

Nick’s energy isn’t all spent on volunteer work. He is also an
avid kayaker, along with Millie. He has kayaked over 400 times
since the year 2000, including in the winter months. He totes two
kayaks on his sidecar almost all the time, so as not to miss an
opportunity to hop on the river or a canal. He is an
award-winning photographer and an artist. To display his work, he
makes and decorates his own picture frames.

For the last 15 years, Nick has also dedicated his time and
energy as a Boy Scout leader for 12 to 18-year olds. He takes his
boys kayaking and guides some to earn their Eagle Scout
awards.

Nick’s years of service to the community have not been without
challenges. Since 1985 he has survived two heart attacks, two
mini strokes, prostate cancer, and kidney stones. He received a
pacemaker/defibrillator in 2012. He pats the small box in his
chest that is obvious through his shirt and laughs, “That’s my
pack of cigarettes.”

Nick keeps his motorcycle packed and ready to go. He once
traveled to New York State for a wine tour with no plans to
participate in an event, but took along his POW display, “just in
case.” And what do you know? He ended up riding in the Mahoning,
New York Memorial Day Parade on the spur of the moment. “I didn’t
want to miss a Memorial Day parade,” he explained. Such is the
spirit of this great citizen and volunteer, who sums up his
experience by saying, “I feel blessed that I can do what I
do.”

The information in this article contains just a sample of the
causes that Nick has helped. He is currently involved in CACPAC
(Christian Action Council of Palmerton Area Churches) Food Bank,
establishment of the Blue Ridge Toy and Food Drive, Operation
Touch of Home, and the Palmerton Veterans Memorial, as well as a
few other volunteer organizations.

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