Politics & Government

Dick Nichols, Kansas’ last Fifth District congressman, ‘put service to others above self’

Richard “Dick” Nichols, the last congressman in Kansas’ Fifth District, has died.

Nichols, 92, was a Republican who served one term in Congress before reapportionment eliminated the Fifth District in the House of Representatives. He died Thursday evening surrounded by family at his home in McPherson.

Sen. Jerry Moran called Nichols an inspiration.

“In every role he took on — son, husband, father, grandfather, soldier, businessman, congressman, community leader and friend — Dick put service to others above self,” Moran said in a prepared statement. “It has been a privilege to call him a friend and mentor throughout his life and I will miss his steady counsel.”

Visitation will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. March 19 at Glidden-Ediger Chapel in McPherson. A celebration of life service will be at 11 a.m. March 20 at the First United Methodist Church in McPherson.

Nichols won election to Congress from the Fifth District in 1990, which ceased to exist two years later after reapportionment brought about by the 1990 Census. Nichols ran for re-election in the Fourth District, but lost in the Republican primary.

After his defeat, Nichols reflected on his two years in Washington.

‘’I had two years,” he told The Eagle at the time. “I went in endorsing the idea of citizen legislatures, where people come from private business or industry or farms, serve a period of time, and then come home.”

He had hoped to stay in Congress, but said he was glad he served and glad he ran in the primary, even though it ended in defeat.

‘’I suppose if I mulled it over repeatedly, you could get very depressed about it. But actually it was a competitive election and a fair election, and I had some recognized disadvantages and some hurdles that were pretty high,” he said.

That habit of finding the good in any situation was indicative of Nichols, those who knew him said.

“He was always the most warm and welcoming person you could imagine,” said Les Mason, a member of Nichols’ campaign for Congress in 1990 who now represents the 73rd District in the Kansas House, where he is assistant House majority leader.

“He had a warm handshake and a smile for you, whether you were a factory worker or the pope,” Mason said. “It didn’t matter what your station in life was, he treated everyone equally well.”

Ron Nichols said his father offered “lifetime lessons.”

“One is that he wasn’t afraid to take risks,” Nichols said. “He had tremendous vision. He could see beyond the risks. He would plow through those with the vision that he had.

“It might have been a vision for a really green yard or serve the country and run for Congress.”

Nichols loved people, his son said.

“He was a fan of people who were underdogs,” Ron Nichols said. “That made him good in banking. He had to work with a lot of folks – some who had real needs. He would figure out a way to make it work.”

Linda Nichols said her husband of nearly 23 years never met a stranger. If he got on an elevator with people he didn’t know, by the time they walked out they’d be friends.

“It was always exciting” with him, Linda Nichols said. “He was very adventuresome and never had thought negatively about anything.”

Born in 1926, Dick Nichols served as an ensign in the Navy in World War II. After his discharge, he earned degrees in agricultural economics and technical journalism at Kansas State University.

Nichols remained a passionate Wildcat the rest of his life and particularly enjoyed discussing K-State football, his son said.

“He was a great optimist, even when K-State was the worst of the worst,” Ron Nichols said. “He got to enjoy their successes recently.”

He married Connie Weinbrenner in 1951 and they had three children. The couple donated money to the restoration of the Statue of Liberty and went to New York in 1986 to celebrate the centennial of the landmark.

Both Dick and Connie Nichols were stabbed on the Staten Island Ferry by a homeless refugee from Cuba while they were taking one last tour of the Statue of Liberty before returning to Kansas. While recuperating in the hospital, he was visited by New York Mayor Ed Koch, who apologized on behalf of the city of New York for what had happened.

In describing her contribution to his campaign for Congress in 1990, Nichols called his wife “my strongest asset.” A professor at McPherson College who earned four degrees, Connie Nichols died of cancer in 1994.

Nichols married Linda in 1996.

Nichols spent more than half a century in the banking industry, most of it at Home State Bank in McPherson, where he served as president and, later, as chairman of the board.

Nichols served as president of the Kansas Bankers Association and as commanding general of the Kansas Cavalry, a state economic development agency.

His survivors include his wife, three children, a stepson and a brother, as well as 15 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.