Highland News Leader
Touted by some as the “Ambassador of Highland,” Janet Nicolaides was nominated by so many for this feature. Perhaps it is due to her ability to befriend any and all she meets.
“Everyone who walks through my front door as a customer, always leaves as a friend,” said Janet who owns and runs Compustitch Embroidery on Highland’s Downtown Square. It seems Janet has a catagion: Friendliness.
Born in Tacoma, Washington, Dec. 18, 1954, to James and Mary Ellen Burke, Janet was the middle child of nine children; three brothers and two sisters. Her father served in the U.S. Navy and her mother’s kin resided in Pana.
Raised as a Catholic, Janet said her parents instilled the need for respect and discipline in their youngsters. Due to having such a large family, Janet said they had to learn how to be creative and entertain themselves by catching lightning bugs, camping in tents and cooking on an outdoor stove. Additionally, she attributes her family’s success to the fact “we all sat down to dinner together every single night.”
Among her fondest memories is how the celebration of Christmas impacted Janet and her siblings.
“As a family, we’d go around town to look at the beautiful Christmas lights and decorations on Christmas Eve,” recalled Janet. “Then, when we returned home, we all saw Santa had been there and left presents. Us kids would run outside and convince each other we actually saw Santa, his sleigh and reindeer high in the sky. Of course know we know it was simply the magic of Christmas in a child’s mind.”
Around 1963, Janet’s father was transferred to Scott Air Force Base and later received a medical discharge, which is how the Burkes settled in Highland. He passed away from a heart attack at age 42. Janet graduated from Highland High School in 1972 and married. She later gave birth to a daughter, Carla. Due perhaps to being so young, the couple’s marriage ended in divorce.
Janet raised her daughter and was employed by Welch Baby Carriage Co. in Trenton for approximately 23 years and said she made many life-long friends while there. In 1992, Janet was introduced to Neil Nicolaides through a family friend; they connected.
“I jokingly tell people I was attracted to him because of his insurance,” quipped Janet. “But in reality, we were total opposites, but that worked out well for us. He willingly lets me do what I want to do and we get along beautifully because of that.”
In fact, Neil taught Janet the art of compustitching.
They married and embarked on their embroidery business in a local storefront about 1993, focusing on shirts, blankets, towels, uniforms and sportswear. But many of her endeavors have not been for monetary acquisitions. Janet does numerous projects pro bono for her community.
After she moved to her current location in 2001, a preteen girl was brought in by her grandmother to have a picture of a horse embroidered on the back of a jacket purchased at Rural King.
Janet said, “I really couldn’t pinpoint it, but while I was working on the little girl’s jacket, I just knew I wouldn’t be charging them anything for it.”
Imagine Janet’s surprise when the grandmother came back to get the coat and Janet her there would be no charge. The grandmother then told Janet her granddaughter had leukemia and was undergoing equine therapy.
New research in the “Biological Psychiatry” reveals “seeing people perform an act of kindness can warm the heart. That feeling has a name — it’s called moral elevation and it’s the warm and fuzzy-on-the-inside sensation you get when you’re in the presence of true human goodness. This feeling helps to explain why kindness and friendliness is, quite frankly, contagious.”
Harvard University Medical Sociologist Nicholas Christakis reported, “The things that we do and the things that we feel are going to reverberate throughout our social network. On average, every happy person and your social network increases your own chance of cheer by nine percent and the effects of catching someone else’s happiness lasts up to one year.”
The study, which looked at nearly 5,000 individuals over 20 years, was published in the “British Medical Journal.”
But Janet’s efforts to help others does not stop at her storefront. She keeps herself deeply enmeshed in worthwhile community endeavors, such as volunteering at concessions at the high school football games and the Hard Road Theater. Janet is an ambassador for Highlands Chamber of Commerce and serves on the Hospitality Committee at her church.
In reference to her church attendance, Janet said she had become somewhat lax in participation in previous years.
“But at some point I realized God had blessed me and my family with good health and that I needed to return to more spiritual productivity,” said Janet. “And, to those who have been given much, much is expected. I love helping people.”
While it seems obvious the community of Highland has lots of accolades for Janet, how does Janet feel about her adopted hometown?
“The people here are amazing,” she said. “And I just have to give a shout out for our city and chamber and how they work harmoniously to keep our little city and downtown square alive, clean and weed-free. We are so blessed they work together for the good of all. You reap what you sow.”