When Albert “Ab” Nicholas played guard for the Badger men’s basketball team, an out-of-state student with a minimum-wage job could earn a semester’s tuition at the University of Wisconsin with 280 hours of work. Today, it would take nearly a full year, working full-time.
This week, Ab and Nancy Nicholas committed $50 million to inspire other donors to create undergraduate and athletic scholarships and graduate fellowships for UW-Madison students. The donation, a one-to-one matching fund, is the second-largest household gift in the university’s history, alongside the gift made in November by John and Tashia Morgridge, which supports faculty.
“The Nicholas gift is in the sweet spot of our priorities,” said UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “Along with the donations it inspires, it will go straight into the pockets of students and their families to make UW-Madison more accessible and affordable. The generosity and humility we all associate with Ab and Nancy is embodied in this extraordinary gift, which will encourage others to create scholarships for students they don’t know. It’s wonderful.”
The Nicholases have long family ties to the UW. Nancy’s parents, Si and Kay Johnson, met on campus and Nancy earned her degree in 1955. Ab, who came north from Rockford, Illinois, on the Harlan B. Rogers Scholarship, earned his bachelor’s in 1952 and MBA in 1955, and starred on the Badger basketball team. He is one of only seven players in UW history to earn All Big Ten honors twice. After studying finance under legendary UW professor Frank Graner, Ab became a money manager and eventually founded the Nicholas Company.
“The University of Wisconsin holds a special place for Nancy and me,” said Ab. “It’s where we met and where our three children and six of our grandchildren have gone to university. I learned the lessons in the classroom and on the court that have fueled my career. And we made lasting friendships and continue to enjoy an amazing alumni experience.”
The first three scholarships established as part of the match were need-based undergraduate scholarships created by daughter Lynn Nicholas, daughter Sue Nicholas Fasciano, and son David and daughter-in-law Lori Nicholas, all of whom graduated from UW-Madison.
The Nicholas gift is designed to help academics and athletics alike. “We are very grateful for the generosity and vision that Ab and Nancy have shown with this gift,” said Barry Alvarez, the UW’s director of athletics. “Scholarships are the foundation of our department. They provide an opportunity for a student to compete at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics while earning a degree from a world class institution.”
Alvarez and his wife, Cindy, pledged funds for one of the first three athletic scholarships under the match. Pledges for the other two came from men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan and his wife, Kelly, and football coach Paul Chryst and his wife, Robin.
The Nicholases have a history of supporting higher education in the state. In 2013, they established the Ab Nicholas Scholarship Foundation dedicated to providing scholarships to Wisconsin high school basketball players who go on to attend any UW System school. They are longstanding supporters of UW-Madison, and in particular its Wisconsin School of Business, School of Human Ecology, and Athletic Department.
“We are blessed to join with other donors to help deserving students and families have their own Wisconsin experience,” says Ab.
For more information, please contact UW Foundation president and CEO Michael Knetter.