Nichols Gift Leads Fundraising To Expand Theater & Dance Facilities

John D. Nichols ’49 and his wife, Alexandra C. Nichols, have generously donated $7.5 million to Loomis Chaffee for a major expansion and renovation of the school’s theater and dance facilities, the school announced on Tuesday, January 21.

The couple’s lead gift provides at least half of the funding for the project, which will be called the John D. and Alexandra C. Nichols Center for Theater and Dance and, according to plans, will include a renovation of the NEO Theater — expanding its seating capacity to 200 and enlarging the stage; a state-of-the-art control booth; a suite of required backstage spaces; a black-box theater; a large dance studio; and a spacious lobby.

“What a thrill to have a family that has been a long-time friend of Loomis Chaffee, as well as personal friends, make such a transformative gift to the school in support of our shared vision of excellence in education,” noted Loomis Chaffee’s Chair of the Board of Trustees Duncan A.L. MacLean ’90, chief executive officer and president of Chicago-based MacLean-Fogg.

Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York was retained by the school to design the new center. The overall project will cost an estimated $14 million to $15 million, and the school is engaged in additional fundraising to reach that total.

John is the retired vice chairman and chief executive officer of the Marmon Holdings Inc., now part of Berkshire Hathaway, and the former chairman and chief executive officer of Illinois Tool Works Inc. A devoted alumnus, John served as a member of the Loomis Chaffee Board of Trustees from 1985 to 1997 and as a volunteer for the school’s Annual Fund. He and Alexandra have hosted several admission and alumni receptions in Chicago for the school. Their children, Kendra Nichols Wallace ‘91 and John D. Nichols III ’94, are also active members of the school community. Over the years, gifts from the Nichols family have contributed to previous Norris Ely Orchard Theater renovations and to endowing the Frances D. Nichols Instructorship in Art in honor of John’s late mother.

“Alexandra and I have strong feelings for theater, dance, and Loomis Chaffee,” John said in conjunction with the family’s latest commitment. “We believe that these performance arts inspire young people and instill in them confidence and a sense for collaboration, paralleling perfectly the school’s mission of developing in each student a commitment to their best self while working on behalf of a common good.”

Loomis Chaffee’s theater program includes classes in acting for stage and camera, improvisation, stage combat, technical theater, and playwriting and directing. The department stages three major performances each year — a fall play, a winter musical, and a collection of plays in the spring that are written, directed, produced, and performed by students. The school’s dance program includes classes in ballet, jazz, and hip-hop, as well as choreography and composition. Beginning and advanced dance companies perform throughout the year with a culminating performance in the spring term.

“John and Alexandra’s generosity ensures the continued excellence of Loomis Chaffee’s performing arts programs,” noted Head of School Sheila Culbert. “We are grateful for their support and the value they place on the arts.”