Albert “Ab” Nicholas, an active philanthropist, successful investment manager and former basketball star at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, died Thursday morning. He was 85.
Nicholas donated millions of dollars over the years to many organizations and causes throughout the state, including the University of Wisconsin—Madison, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and the Brightstar Wisconsin Foundation, Inc..
“He was just a great guy; a prince of a man,” said Vincent Lyles, president and chief executive officer of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee. “He loved talking sports, but also about issues in the world. Ab was definitely someone who was concerned about future generations. He had an interest in giving back and he expressed that interest in multiple ways with multiple organizations around town.”
Born in Rockford, Illinois in 1931, Nicholas attended UW on an athletic scholarship. At the time he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics, he was the highest scoring guard in the history of UW’s men’s basketball program. He was named to the All-Big 10 team twice and in 1952 was named a second-team All-American by Look Magazine. Nicholas was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009.
Nicholas returned to UW after serving in the military and received an MBA in finance and investments. He founded Nicholas Company, Inc., a Milwaukee-based investment advisory firm, in 1967, which grew to manage more than $5 billion.
Thomas Shannon, president and CEO of Brightstar Wisconsin, a nonprofit capital donation firm that invests in Wisconsin start-ups with the goal of retaining talent and creating local jobs, described Nicholas as “a consummate gentleman.”
Shannon’s parents were friends of Nicholas and his wife, Nancy Nicholas. When Shannon and Brightstar’s other founders were seeking initial donations for the foundation in 2013, he said Nicholas asked him: “How much do you need?”
He made a $1 million contribution.
“I’m wearing my Badger shirt today in honor of him,” Shannon said.
Nicholas donated $2 million to Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee in 2015 to launch a basketball league for students in 3rd through 8th grades that requires players to participate in a weekly tutoring program. He and his wife established a $50 million endowment for the University of Wisconsin system that provides need-based college scholarships for students who participated as players or managers for their high school basketball program.
“He was such a great guy: really affable, great sense of humor, good story teller,” Lyles said. “He was always warm and friendly and just it’s a great loss for our community.”
Nicholas’s funeral will be held at Trinity Episcopal Church in Wauwatosa.
“He was just generous,” said Trinity Episcopal Rector Rev. Gary Manning. “He never forgot where he came from, and he wasn’t just generous with his money, he was generous with his presence: with his time, with his laughter, with the way that he welcomed people into his sphere. He approached life with open arms. Every time he talked to me, he would mention how grateful he was that he grew up in the Episcopal church and he loved what it meant to be an Episcopalian. He lived his faith and his faith was an important touchstone in his life.”
The date and time of the funeral have not been set.