Club to be renamed after longtime director Bruce Nichols

SOUTH BELOIT — For nearly 30 years, Bruce Nichols was not only the unit director at the South Beloit Boys & Girls Club, he was its heart and soul.

To thousands of boys and eventually girls who considered the South Beloit Boys & Girls Club their home away from home, no one is more deserving of having their name on the building.

That will happen officially on July 30 at the club’s Casino Night when it becomes the Bruce Nichols South Beloit Boys & Girls Club.

No spoiler alert is necessary. The guest of honor is well aware of the event.
“Social media being what it is, we knew there’s no way it wouldn’t get out,” said Brian Nichols, Bruce’s brother. “We also wanted to make sure he wasn’t planning on taking a vacation the night of the unveiling. It’s important he be there.”
The surprise just came a whole lot earlier as Brian told his brother the news a few weeks ago.

“I am shocked and humbled,” Bruce Nichols said in a telephone interview from Tampa, Fla., where he and his wife have resided since his retirement in 2009. “I never pictured a South Beloit kid growing up and getting his name on that building. You think of that as someone giving a big-time donation or someone who is just big-time.”

Nichols may not be rich, but he’s certainly famous to club alums.

“Bruce Nichols was the driving force at the South Beloit club for years,” Brian Flanigan said. “It was his vision. He was the one who cultivated the activities. He had the passion and he found the right people to run his programs.”

Bruce Nichols was a club kid himself growing up in South Beloit, although he was bused to the Beloit club. He graduated from South Beloit High School in 1969 and Illinois State in 1973, the same year he became a volunteer staffer at the South Beloit Boys Club.

In 1976, he was named program director of the Beloit Boys Club and the following year he became unit director there. He moved in 1980 to become unit director of the South Beloit club and remained there for 29 years.

While he was director at South Beloit, he initiated many programs, including the Member of the Year, the Adopt-a-Grandparent and Pen Pal programs, the Boys Club soccer program and many more.

“You can say what you want about the brick and mortar,” Nichols said. “You can talk about the programs and all these different things they are doing, but it all gets back to people. I always had a vision, but I had to have the right people around me to do it. My success was based on finding people I was impressed with and then recruiting them, whether as workers or volunteers. My job 24-7 was finding good people.”

Nichols said another key to his long-term success was giving the kids who went there a feeling of ownership.

“Mainly, it’s the kids’ club and I let them make some decisions,” he said. “I wanted them to feel like the place was their’s.”

They did.

“Bruce was a great leader of young kids,” said club alum Peter Scalia. “Some of the kids who were the most trouble in school went to the Boys Club and they didn’t get in trouble there. Bruce was a no-nonsense type of guy and he didn’t play favorites. Kids wanted to be there and they knew they had to behave.”

Nichols said a strong background in counseling and guidance gave him the ammunition he needed to be an effective communicator with kids.

“One of the things people fail to do is really invest in a relationship with a kid,” he said. “Once you listen to them and give them some patience they don’t think of you as a disciplinarian. They think of you as someone who respects them and then they listen.

“The first thing you need to do is get them to take responsibility for what they do. The club is all about making smart choices.”

Nichols said he sometimes followed his own path.

“During the time I was there the national Boys & Girls Club wanted to become more program-oriented,” he said. “I rode that wave, but at the South Beloit Club I was also kind of on my own. I could take the club in the direction I wanted and I had to make it enjoyable for kids to make sure they came back.”

Nichols is thrilled the club still has relevance and he’s convinced CEO Mark Rand will keep it that way.

“South Beloit kids need the kind of place where they feel they belong and I think Mark Rand will see they do,” Nichols said. “He is the best executive director I’ve seen.”