Rockford, Illinois News

Rockford Park District mourns loss of Dan Nicholas

ROCKFORD — The Rockford Park District is mourning the loss of of the namesakes of Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens.

Daniel J. Nicholas died April 5. He was 93.

Dan was the first Rockford Park District Foundation Board President from 1993 to 1999 before going on to serve as a Rockford Park District Commissioner from 2001 to 2003. He then continued his volunteer efforts with the foundation board and was named an emeritus director in 2019.

Rockford Park District Foundation helps secure philanthropic support to the Rockford Park District fundraising for people, projects, and places.

“I was lucky to be able to work with Dan as he served on our Foundation Board after his time as president of the board,” Rockford Park District Foundation Director Lori Berkes-Nelson said. “Dan loved this community and loved seeing others enjoy life.”

Dan and his wife Ruth are credited for establishing the City of Gardens program and every year hundreds of hanging baskets are hung all throughout our community as flowers and gardens add beauty to the region, improve our spirits, and provide a more pleasant place to live, work, and play.

Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens is named after the Nicholas family, who in March 2006 announced their donation of $2.15 million toward the conservatory project in honor of their parents, William and Ruby Nicholas.

Like many families growing up in Rockford in the 1940s and 1950s, the three Nicholas brothers, Bill, Dan and Ab, spent much of their time outdoors enjoying Sinnissippi Park and the Rock River. The trio envisioned Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens as a gathering place for our community and a catalyst for future river development.

“Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens would still be a dream without Dan’s vision, passion for his hometown of Rockford, and his financial contribution,” Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens Manager Dan Erwin said. “He provided us with a gift that will continue to give back to the community in honor of his parents. The Nicholas Conservatory staff are fortunate to live out Dan’s dream of having a place for so many to gather for special occasions or to capture precious family moments. We will continue to do so in his honor.”

Dan Nicholas also volunteered as a greeter at the conservatory. At sunset, Thursday, April 15, the facility will be lit in purple to honor his contributions. Luminaries will also be placed throughout the conservatory campus.

Ruth Nicholas said: “The Park District meant the world to Dan and our family. He dedicated himself to making Rockford a beautiful place to live and work.”