MOULTRIE — The sound of music flows like a stream through Nelle Collier’s life.

After 50 years in the First Baptist Church choir, the 86-year-old Collier is a fixture in the church’s music scene. Her rendition of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” is a holiday tradition.

But the source of the musical stream goes all the way back to her childhood, to her father’s Victrola record player.

“He would buy records and they were this thick,” she said, holding finger and thumb about a half-inch apart, “and cut on only one side.”

Collier’s father and mother enjoyed classical music — including greats like Enrico Caruso — and Nelle liked it too. Her brothers preferred gospel music.

Collier took her love of singing to the stage as a young woman in Atlanta. She joined the Atlanta Civic Opera Company, a fund-raiser of the city’s Optimist Club. The opera company actually didn’t sing opera, Collier said; they performed operettas, which are lighter in tone than operas and often contain speaking parts. She still has photos of herself with the rest of the cast in “The Red Mill,” “The Chocolate Soldier” and others.

“I was just in the mob scenes,” she said, because she was part of the chorus, not one of the main actors.

The opera company was good training. Collier said its director was the voice teacher in Atlanta. She worked there for five years.

Collier was married to Don Collier, an advertising man with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, when Max Nussbaum of The Moultrie Observer came looking for an ad manager. Collier was recommended, and Nussbaum interviewed him.

“[Don] came home one day and said, ‘How’d you like to move to Moultrie, Georgia?’” Collier recalled. “I said, ‘Where?’”

Don Collier served as ad manager for The Observer for many years. The couple became a part of the community. He died in 1990, several years after retiring from the newspaper.

“When I came to Moultrie, I wanted to get involved with some kind of singing,” Nelle Collier said.

She joined the community chorus, under the direction of Nat Frazier.

“I don’t know if anyone from that is left,” she said. “I don’t know if anyone’ll even remember it.”

In the 1950s, she was part of the Service League Follies. The Moultrie Service League provided local talent and brought in a director from out-of-town to lead them.

“We’d just have a ball,” Collier said. “Singing’s been a big part of my life.”

More recently, she was part of The Raisinettes, a local dance group made up of senior citizens. She was a member for about 10 years, she said.

At First Baptist, she joined the choir.

“I’ve sung for lots of weddings, lots of funerals,” she said.

Longtime friend Vivian Anderegg said Collier’s been singing for the church for five decades.

“Every year for 50-something years she has sung in the First Baptist Church on Christmas,” Anderegg said, “and she sings ‘Sweet Little Jesus Boy.’”

“That’s been a tradition for humpteen years,” Collier agreed.

Anderegg works with Collier at one of her other passions: volunteering at Colquitt Regional Medical Center.

Collier has been part of the Blue Birds — formerly the Pink Ladies — for 20 years. She’s racked up something over 14,000 hours of service, one of the highest totals in the hospital auxiliary. She and other volunteers will be recognized at a banquet in April.

Collier said she volunteers two days a week at the hospital. Her job is to push wheelchairs of patients who are being released, or to run errands, or to transport items from one department to another, such as carrying trays from the kitchen.

“Anybody that needs us can call us,” she said. Volunteers’ work frees up hospital staff for other duties.

“I feel like it’s worthwhile. … You just come to love the hospital and the people who work there,” she said.

For years, Collier has stayed physically active too. She played volleyball at the YMCA “until that petered out,” and then she started playing at the Recreation Department.

“We had lots of people who played and had a wonderful time,” she said.

Now, perhaps in a nod to age, she’s moved to playing ping-pong with three others twice a week.

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