Zotta scholarship recipient follows in the footsteps of a great nurse who came before her

by | Nov 27, 2016

Nicole Bates aims to pay it forward as part of a legacy of compassion and excellent care.
Nicole Bates, scholarship recipient

“She has always been my inspiration, and my dream as a young girl was to be just like her,” Nicole Bates says of her mother, who is a registered nurse. (Photo by August Jennewein)

“I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t think of her,” Margaret Holyfield says of her dear friend Peggy Zotta. “Nursing is an art as well as a skill, and every day that she practiced, Peggy made a difference in someone’s life.”

Holyfield, also a nurse who is now retired, worked side-by-side with Zotta for many years in the Special Care Nursery at St. Luke’s Hospital. Their friendship was the kind that leaves a lasting impact on a person’s life – the kind that is filled with so much love and support that it often creates a ripple effect.

Holyfield put that ripple effect into place in a tangible way in 2014, when Zotta became terminally ill. She knew that she wanted to honor both her friend and her friend’s remarkable work. For that reason, she and her husband Maurice Meslans set out to establish the Peggy Zotta memorial scholarship for students in the College of Nursing at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

The aim was to make the scholarship available for any students with great need, but especially for those who often fall through the cracks or who have no other means for pursuing their goals.

Zotta herself was able to learn about the first scholarship recipient before her passing.

“She was pleased that the first recipient was a single mom, just like she had once been,” Holyfield said.

This year, there is another recipient of the Zotta Scholarship. She, too, happens to be a single parent.

Nicole Bates attends the traditional, part-time, evening and weekend program within the College of Nursing. By day, she works full time for the state of Missouri, helping people in need acquire public assistance. Amidst these commitments, she raises her 9-year-old son and juggles a host of other responsibilities.

She is quick to admit that the shuffling act she pulls off with what many of her professors describe as a graceful, humble nature is not always easy.

“I play a lot of roles and some of them are pushed to the side due to the load I carry,” Bates says. “But I have faith that everything will work itself out. I simply do the best I can.”

Bates initially graduated from UMSL with a bachelor’s degree in communication six years ago, but she says her deep desire to help people has always been with her, and that it – in combination with several other factors – convinced her to come back to UMSL and change career paths.

Her mother, also a registered nurse who often worked several jobs to provide for her two daughters, has had a huge influence.

“My mother has told me since I was 17 years old that I would be a wonderful nurse because of my nurturing and caring spirit,” Bates says. “It took me a while to see in myself what she saw years ago.”

An experience during Bates’ own labor and delivery – now the specialty area she hopes to pursue – was also a guiding force.

“It was the times that I was alone at the hospital – when my mother had to leave – that the nurse was there for me. The support, time and conversation that were given to me left an everlasting impression, and I would like to be that person for someone else.”

The chances of her staying the course and achieving that goal have been greatly increased by the Zotta scholarship, which is renewable each year and provides funds for the fall, spring and summer semesters. Bates says the constant, everyday struggle of meeting the needs of herself and her son in addition to tuition costs has been immeasurably lessened.

She’s also full of gratitude for friends, family, coworkers and colleagues who have rallied around her to show their support – including some folks at UMSL, who she says she can’t thank enough.

“Professor Shelia Grigsby, James Osteen, Dr. Vanessa Loyd, Associate Dean Erika Michalski,” Bates lists the names in earnest. “These people did more than listen to me. They heard the desire of my heart and gave me words of encouragement. I am eternally grateful for the role they have each played in bringing me to this point in my education.”

Holyfield has equally high words of praise for Bates.

“Nicole is a charming, compassionate, exceptional individual. I couldn’t be more pleased that she is the recipient.”

Charming. Compassionate. Exceptional. These are words Holyfield also uses to describe Peggy Zotta.

“This scholarship, as part of her legacy, honors who she was and the lives she touched,” Holyfield says. “I am grateful that in her name we are able to support worthy recipients like Nicole realize their dreams and change lives, and I hope that in their time, they pass it along as well.”

That concept of paying it forward is an especially important one for Holyfield – not just for those in the nursing field, but for everyone.

“All things go the way of the world, and my beloved friend obviously can never be replaced,” she says. “But whenever we help someone or give a hand up or assist them on their way, we in essence earn our place here, and it behooves us to remember that we’re all in this together.”

The UMSL Experience


Jami Hirsch

Jami Hirsch