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Monday, April 5, 2021

Reverend “Wishy” Nolan

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Loss of brother inspires a lifetime of helping others

Growing up together in Northeast Louisiana’s Morehouse Parish, the Nolan boys were inseparable.

William thought his brother, John, hung the moon.

“He was my idol,” William said. “He had a photographic memory. He could look at a page and tell me what was on it.”

But it is William’s memory that haunts him to this day. The memory of his 8-year-old brother dying from malaria and measles when William was just 6 years old.

“Two weeks after his death, I asked my uncle when Johnny was coming back,” William remembered. “He said he would never be back. I hurt so badly in my chest over that loss that I said if I could ever help anybody not hurt that badly, I wanted to do it. That’s when I became a candidate for the ministry.”

William — better known as the Rev. “Wishy” Nolan — has used his more than 45- year career as a Methodist minister to fulfill that promise he made to himself.

“I knew I was going to do something to help other people,” said Reverend Nolan, who will turn 90 this summer. “I was in the Boy Scouts and was an Eagle Scout, and my father was in the church, and my mother was in the church. (My father) played professional baseball, and I learned a lot of athletics from him. My mother was a teacher. She was a person who could take nothing and make something out of it. I guess she did that with me.”

Rev. Nolan’s father, Bill, played ball with the likes of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Ty Cobb. His athletic talent was passed down to his son, who — at Oak Ridge High School — played baseball and earned All-State honors in basketball.

But it was in the ministry — not the ball field or basketball court — where “Wishy” shined brightest. He majored in Bible at Centenary College and got his first taste of preaching before he graduated.

“My senior year, the district superintendent asked me if I would preach down at the churches in Coushatta — down in that area — Holly Springs and Carrol Creek — little country churches.”

“Wishy” went from those “little country churches” to the big city. He graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he attended the prestigious Perkins School of Theology. Rev. Nolan’s career has taken him to 12 churches — small to big — throughout Louisiana.

But Rev. Nolan’s will to keep others from experiencing the pain he felt as a young boy was not limited to his work in the church. Rev. Nolan has been a member of Rotary — an organization that prides itself in helping others — for 50 years.

Although his first year as president of the Bastrop Club Rotary got off to a shaky start.

“First meeting, I gave the Pledge of Allegiance,” Rev. Nolan remembered. “I left out the part about God. They never let me forget it.”

But Rev. Nolan survived and has been an active member of the Downtown Shreveport Rotary Club for 41 years. A husband (Janet — 25 years), father of four children, stepfather to three children and grandfather to seven children, Rev. Nolan uses his work with Rotary to keep the promise he made to himself after his brother died.

“I guess it goes back to when I hurt so badly and said I wanted to help anyone I could to not have a tough life,” Rev. Nolan said. “I found that in the Bible, as well as in life. I wanted to be different. I did not want to be like the group that was available to smoke and drink and carouse. I wanted to step up another level because life was coming in.”

Longtime fellow Rotarian Darrell Rebouche looks forward to seeing “Wishy” at their weekly meetings.

“Rev. Nolan is a consistently uplifting presence — a welcome addition to any gathering,” Rebouche said. “He is consistently warm and friendly and quick to share a laugh. He can easily delight you with an original, light verse or a quick word of advice. Our lives are lighter for having Wishy Nolan in them.”

Rev. Nolan’s “light verse” usually comes in the form of a poem. He is the author of two books of poetry.

“You can tell things in poetry that you just can’t say point blank,” Rev. Nolan explained, “but still get a message across.”

His message “helps people get through tough times.”

“I have positive (poems) that I have printed up, and I give them to people, and they put them up in their businesses,” Rev. Nolan said. “I see them quite often. They tell me I needed that today, and I’m glad you gave me that.”

A gift from Wishy Nolan. But really, a gift from his brother.

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