After 34 years, Nichols hanging up ranger’s hat

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 2, 2004

Vicksburg National Military Park Superintendent Bill Nichols leans against his favorite monument, the Louisiana Monument. (Jenny SevcikThe Vicksburg Post)

[1/1/04]Leaving a post he calls his “labor of love,” longtime Vicksburg National Military Park Superintendent Bill Nichols will retire Friday after nearly 20 years.

Nichols has been with the Vicksburg National Military Park for 18 years and has a total service of 34 years within the park service. He started at Yellowstone National Park the summer between his junior and senior year at the University of Wisconsin with a degree in biology.

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“I’m going to miss it,” he said as he sat on the Louisiana Monument for what may have been his last time as the park’s head. “Friday’s going to be a very emotional day for me.”

He added with a laugh, “I’m going to drive my wife crazy.”

But as his free days begin, Nichols will have time to reflect on what he’s most proud of during his tenure his staff and the projects they have accomplished together.

Under Nichols’ administration, a $5 million road project, the restoration of the Louisiana Monument, the Cairo Gunboat and Museum and the Mississippi Monument have all been completed.

“It took a lot of teamwork getting these things done,” Nichols said, and compared the park staff to that of the teamwork of his favorite football team the Green Bay Packers, a team that happens to be in his home state of Wisconsin.

“The reality is, I’m no better than employees let me be. Everything we’ve accomplished here has been totally dependent on them.”

And supervisory park ranger Emma Lee Harrell, who’s worked at the park with Nichols for 16 years, agreed.

“He’s been able to get a lot of things done,” she said, adding that the entire staff pulled together to accomplish the projects. “He worked with us, and we worked with him.”

Harrell said Nichols has improved relations between the park service and the city, a sentiment community members echoed.

“He’s been absolutely, in my opinion, the greatest superintendent that the Vicksburg National Military Park has ever had,” said Lenore Barkley, former executive director of the Vicksburg Visitor and Convention Bureau.

She said she mentioned in a letter to him not long ago that it would be impossible to fill his shoes.

“He always listened and was willing to talk about situations and work them out,” she said.

Barkley recalled Nichols’ helpfulness when the VCVB wanted to place a travel counselor in the park’s visitor center full time.

“He was willing to make whatever adjustments and talk to the powers that be to make that happen,” Barkley said.

While previous park superintendents were unwilling to work with city administrators, Barkley said, Nichols integrated himself with Vicksburg and Warren County from the word go.

“Bill has been a joiner and a doer in the community from day one,” she said.

Barkley and Nichols served on numerous tourism committees together.

“Vicksburg has been a very interesting place to live,” he said. “There has been a lot to get involved in.”

Nichols, 64, is also active in his church, where he serves as an ordained elder.

“I’ve always admired him for the steady, even-keel leadership he’s provided not only to the park, but to the church as well,” said the Rev. Steve Bryant, who is pastor of First Presbyterian Church.

Bryant said an elder makes significant decisions that guide the direction of the church, and Nichols has been an exemplary leader.

“He has been a great captain of the ship for the park and the church,” Bryant said. “I’m just thankful that you can’t retire from the church.”

Nichols has already prepared for his last day. He purchased his lifetime admission pass, and said he’ll pass through every now and again, “to keep the staff on its toes.”