GREENVILLE — Every morning at 6 a.m., Wayne Nichols took a walk around the Shawnee Prairie and Nature Center property to see that things were OK.
His work day started at 7.
“That was his little peace of heaven,” Darke County Park District Director Roger Van Frank said. “I will miss my friend, but I know he is with God. He was such a good man.”
Nichols was the Darke County Park District Maintenance Supervisor. He passed away, suddenly, December 3, 2017.
“I never had to worry about him. He was a very honest individual, who donated about an hour a day to the Park District. That is how much he liked his job,” Van Frank said.
Nichols was a silent leader, according to Van Frank. He started out as a volunteer for the park district, and urged Van Frank to hire him. Eventually he was hired part-time, and when folks witnessed his skills and the opportunity arose, he became full-time.
“He turned around one day a couple of months after he was hired, and he said, ‘This is the first job in my entire life that I can put all of my skills to good use.’ That to me meant he liked what he did,” Van Frank said.
According to Van Frank, Nichols saved the park district thousands of dollars, because of his abilities. Some of Nichols’ skills included: carpentry, electrical, construction, excavation, mechanical repair and operating vehicles and machinery. His projects varied from laying stone, building trails, cleaning bathrooms, splitting wood and handling major events, such as the annual “Prairie Days”. Those did not include the random fallen tree, the broken furnace or answering an alarm in the middle of the night.
“His absence is felt every day. There isn’t a day go by that someone says, ‘If Wayne was here, we wouldn’t have to worry about that,’” Van Frank said.
This time of year, Van Frank is reflective, he said. He will miss Nichols the most, during the upcoming maple syrup season. There they found a common bond in preserving that history, he said. And they spent a lot of time boiling the sap.
“We always argued about how long to boil it,” Van Frank said. “If I said something that he didn’t agree with during a Maple Syrup Program, he would interrupt me right away. I just stepped back, smiled and let him go. We had a lot of fun.”
Mother Nature has a lot to do with the sap collected, Nichols said in a story last year about the Darke County Parks Sugar Shack.
“A daily gathering of between one and three gallons of sap are collected,” he said. “Last year the sapping lasted about 10 days, making 71-pint jars of syrup. We would much rather see 200 pints.”
In addition to the work, Van Frank said Nichols understood the importance of the park district’s offerings to the public.
“And with his wry smile, he always encouraged people to buy in, and take ownership of pieces of the parks by volunteering,” Van Frank said.
After developing a lifelong friendship with Nichols, in a short period of time, Van Frank said Nichols has left an impression.
“His exit from this earth has made me more cognizant of what I do,” he said. “It has pushed me to make sure that I lead by example a little bit more, that I listen better, that I am more patient and that I don’t offer judgment. Wayne would not pass judgment; he sat and listened with quiet leadership. He did so much that was amazing. How do you teach somebody that?”
After Nichols’ passing, Van Frank found a legal pad with a long list of duties on Nichols’ desk. Some had check-marks beside them, designating their completion.
“The park was always on his mind,” Van Frank said. “We aren’t looking to replace Wayne; he is irreplaceable.”
The writer may be reached at 937-569-4354. Join the conversation and get updates on Facebook search Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.
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