Woodlawn street dedicated to Rudy and Joyce Nimocks

One night about 40 years ago, Rudy and Joyce Nimocks were walking home along the 6100 block of South Greenwood Avenue, in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood, when a young boy they didn’t know ran up to them. Visibly shaken, he said he was afraid to walk home alone.

The only question Rudy asked was where the boy lived. The couple put the boy between them, and escorted him down the dark street to his front steps.

Earlier this summer, officials dedicated that same stretch of Greenwood Avenue as “Honorary Rudy & Joyce Nimocks Way,” recognizing decades of immediate willingness to serve anybody who needed help, and an unfailing dedication to the neighborhood that is their home.

“Rudy and Joyce have been extremely dedicated in devoting their lives to Woodlawn,” said 20th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran, who initiated the street dedication. “They are community builders, and I am proud to honor them so that people will see their names in the future and know they are a lesson to be learned from.”

Rudy and Joyce met 51 years ago, when they worked in the same South Side discount store. Since then they have been deeply involved in issues of public safety, youth education and health advocacy in their community. During the last two decades, many of their efforts have been with or through the University of Chicago.

Embodying civic engagement

Rudy Nimocks became chief of the University of Chicago Police Department 23 years ago, following 33 years with the city’s police department. He retired as deputy superintendent and was a two-time finalist for the office of Superintendent of Police. As UCPD chief, he led the effort to extend patrol services north into the North Kenwood-Oakland community and south into Woodlawn—a move that has been credited with reducing the crime rate on campus and in those areas.

Since 2009, he has been Director of Community Partnerships in the Office of Civic Engagement. In that role, the 83-year-old Nimocks’ job is to expand the University’s collaborations with surrounding neighborhoods.

One of his biggest projects—the Chicago Youth Leadership Academy—this summer enabled 42 high schools students to participate in two news conferences with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and visit the Moline, Ill., headquarters of Deere & Co., the maker of John Deere agricultural equipment. Prior to that, Rudy notes, “some of these young people had never been outside their own neighborhoods.”

Rudy worked with the city’s 3rd District Commander and two police officers to create the academy in 2009. The CYLA brings youth from various South Side communities to campus for three weeks to expose them to college life and provide alternatives to gangs, drugs and other social issues that often face urban youth from underserved communities.

“Rudy embodies the University’s commitment to use its academic and other resources to engage with our neighbors and help address the challenges they face,” said Derek Douglas, Vice President for Civic Engagement. “He continually looks for opportunities to strengthen our connection with the surrounding community.”

Rudy and Joyce both serve on the boards of many community organizations, more than they can easily name. Among them is the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community, which the University supports. Rudy chairs the WCPC’s public safety committee, and Joyce is a member of the health committee and chair of the early childhood committee.

Several years ago, Joyce worked with another neighbor to produce a series of health programs at churches and community centers, and more recently she has served as a peer educator on asthma throughout the Woodlawn community. Joyce also has helped organize activities for neighborhood children through her block club and the alderman’s office, and she joined a series of 1990s demonstrations that shut down a nuisance business in the area. Through the WCPC, she also was involved with a University project that employed community residents as researchers—an effort she recalls as having a significant impact.

“Anything that can help our Woodlawn neighbors build a resume and experience meaningful activities is desperately needed,” explains Joyce, who had a 16-year career as a corporate trainer and manager before staying home to care for her aging mother-in-law, the late Elva Nimocks, who purchased the family’s home on South Greenwood Avenue in 1952.

Schools and safety

The newly dedicated Rudy & Joyce Nimocks Way is just on the south edge of the UChicago campus. Those who gathered there in June to pay tribute to the Nimockses included Chicago historian Timuel Black; Cortez Trotter, executive director of the Woodlawn Public Safety Alliance; Waymon Ward, Rudy’s friend of 79 years; and Sonya Malunda, Senior Associate Vice President in UChicago’s Office of Civic Engagement.

While accepting the honorary street sign (a duplicate of the one posted on his block), Rudy—who last year was inducted into Chicago’s Senior Citizen Hall of Fame for an exemplary career in public service—pledged to keep working.

“You have to have two things to make a community strong—good schools and good public safety,” he said. “I’m going to continue to do everything I can for this community and for the University of Chicago.”

For Joyce, holding the sign and reflecting on their lives on Greenwood Avenue stirred up the memory of the young boy who was afraid to walk down that street four decades earlier.

“He couldn’t have been more than 9 years old, and he was so terrified,” she said, recalling that there seemed to be no one else on the street except a dark shadow near one porch. “As soon as we reached his house, he ran up the steps, pushed the door open, and stumbled up another flight of steps before turning around and yelling to Rudy, ‘Thank you, Mister!’”

“That says it all for me,” she added. “Taking the time to listen to a child and rescue a child matters.”