J. Elizabeth (Timmons) Nkonoki-Ward Bio
J. Elizabeth (Timmons) Nkonoki-Ward was born to James and Agnes (Gay) Timmons in Tallahassee, Florida, November 20, 1935. Her mom brought her to Connecticut, just, before, her second birthday, with the focus on her receiving an excellent education in a racially, non-segregated environment.
Elizabeth began first grade in Kensington, CT’s elementary school, because there were no kindergartens, at that time. They attended St. Paul Catholic Church, across the street from the school. When it was decided that the family cluster (dad, mom, and his siblings had followed from Florida to Kensington, CT, by that time)should move to newly-built government housing in New Britain, CT, the Pastor Of St. Paul’s, Monsignor Thomas Greylish guided Elizabeth’s family to enroll her in St. Joseph Parochial School in New Britain, CT. It wasn’t realized, until, many years, later, that Monsignor Greylish had paid the tuition for her to attend St. Joseph School.
Upon graduation from St. Joseph Parochial School’s ninth grade, and the choir. Elizabeth continued her studies at New Britain Public High School. Music became a main focus, along with academics. She was blessed to have become one of the vocal soloists and member of the noted Starlettes, as a freshman, for the New Britain High School Music Department, under the direction of Mr. Vincent DeBenedictus, under the trusty guidance of his renowned accompanist, Eleanor Gionfriddo.
That year set into motion an invitation to study voice with Harriet Hale Linger, who was in the audience, during her debut, freshman solo. Harriet Linger took Elizabeth under her wing, teaching her to sing opera, taking her, along with her students, during her junior year in high school, to Carnegie Hall, New York City, New York, to perform scenes, from a variety of operas, under the direction of John Hand, Director of the New York Opera Guild. Elizabeth was featured in the role of Micaela from Bizet’s opera, “Carmen”. She was informed that her makeup man was the one who was, also, the makeup person for the renowned African American opera singer, Marian Anderson.
Graduating, as one of the first recipients for a newly-organized Music Scholarship, Elizabeth was selected, by the New Britain High School Music Director, Mr. Vincent DeBenedictus, to be the female recipient, along with her beloved friend from St. Joseph School, Arthur Bernard Picard, being the first male recipient, that year.
Harriet Hale Linger insisted that the best college for Elizabeth to attend was Danbury State Teachers College, in Danbury, Connecticut, with its newly-formed Music Department. She applied and was accepted into the Music Department. Weeks into the first semester, Elizabeth went to “Divvi” to tell her she did not think she was cut out to be a music teacher, based upon her observation of the students, around her. Divvi”, immediately, to her surprise, let her know that she had been selected as the first Negro to be accepted into the Music Department, because of her background and that she was well qualified to be, there.
That was, all, “Divvi” had had to say, because it meant there was a responsibility to be carried, out, by her, (Elizabeth), so other African Americans would be able to be a part of Danbury State Teachers College’s Music Department.
Elizabeth, happily, completed her Bachelors of Music Education in 1958, having taken off a year to work to continue her education, receiving her Masters Of Science in Elementary Education, some years after marriage and starting a family.
She taught, most, successfully, as a Music Teacher in a variety of Connecticut towns, including Hamden, CT; New Britain, CT; Branford, CT (she was encouraged by administrators, there, to apply to be the Music Supervisor, but, opted to teach in the area around New Britain where the family resided); Newington and Hartford (She became Burr School Teacher Of the Year, followed by being named Hartford’s Teacher Of The Year); taught, happily and, successfully, at CCSU for the Educational Opportunity Program/Pre-Collegiate and Access Services, as an adjunct professor for over 40 years, having initiated and implemented many of her ideas to help the program to prepare the students for their time on campus and, after: Dress For Success Day, each week; The Debate Event, carried on by other faculty; The End Of Program Awards Ceremony (Awards were given to students and community leaders, including renowned television mogul, Norman Lear, legislators, business persons, etc., to set in motion networking between students and prospective employers); Off-campus Shadowing (some students were, surprisingly, offered jobs, during their shadow experience); The EOP Newspaper; The EOP Talent Show; Pioneers Television Series (students and community leaders were recruited to host the shows and/or to be guests..which included local, national and international persons, which included a former Shah Of Iran’s personal artist and a CCSU Art Professor who had designed the President’s Seal...a list of over 50 tv programs); Connecticut Talent Showcase TV series; Special Recognition Awards to CCSU’s Faculty and Personnel Of Color (a gauge of how far the campus had come in racial inclusion in employment on campus, since the student sit-in demonstration in 1969 or 1970); Political Campaign Forums (students got to know about the importance of voting, having researched government positions and those running for the positions, after which students met and, then, introduced competing candidates(which included the likes of Dannel Malloy, Steve Merrill, Chris Murphy, Ned Lamont, Susan Bysiewicz, Richard Blumenthal) for all government positions, live, on television to the State Of Connecticut); Recognition Of Connecticut Black Doctors, which included a historic NASA teleconference recognition; CCSU’s Historic Tuskegee Airmen Honorary Doctorates (making this the FIRST time in the history of the U.S. that these awesome military heroes had ever been recognized in the U.S., assisted by former EOP Director Michael Ansarra, under former CCSU President Richard L. Judd.
Elizabeth, retired from teaching music at Bulkeley High School, Hartford, CT in 1999. She has not only taught, but, has served as a Board of Education member for the Consolidated Schools Of New Britain, is, presently, Co-Chair for New Britain Symphony Society Education Committee, became a radio host for WJMJ, and WPOP, and an Executive Producer/Producer for WVIT-TV, Channel 30’s Black Perspective and Nutmeg TV.
She, presently, serves on New Britain, CT s Commission on Community and Neighborhood Development and is Chair for the celebration of the State Normal School/Ebenezer D. Bassett Historic Marker Unveiling in 2019.
Nkonoki-Ward is an avid community advocate and till June 2022 was the long time dedicated organist, 55 years plus and parishioner at St Joseph Church aka Divine Providence Parish in New Britain, CT.
Currently she is actively involved at St Justin/ St Michaels Parish in Hartford, CT, but attends Mass throughout Greater New Britain daily.
She is mother to 6 including Lisa Nkonoki, Jonathan Nkonoki, Randy Nkonoki Ward, Jodi Ward, Stephanie Ward and Joseph Ward Jr, 21 grandchildren and 27 great grandchildren.