Toy ambulance collection symbol of even larger hearts

The new display at PVH is just a sample of a once much-larger collection from a Fort Collins’ philanthropist couple who gave a lot of themselves to improve the lives of others.
Nov. 9, 2018
Kathy puts a mini toy ambulance on the shelf
Kathy Nicol looks at one of the toy ambulances that is part of the late Jack and Elsie Nicols’ collection, now on at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital. Photos by Kati Blocker.

There’s a story behind the toy ambulance collection that Fort Collins philanthropists Jack and Elsie Nicol built.

“It honors Jack and Elsie’s (Nicol) memory and their long association with the hospital as both were volunteers for many years,” said their daughter-in-law, Kathy Nicol, about the new display.

The collection is parked inside a glass case between the UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital Emergency Room and the main entrance and is a sample of a once much-larger collection from the couple that gave of themselves to improve the lives of others and their community.

Jack and Elsie Nicol first came to Fort Collins in the late 1940s. The son of Scottish immigrants, Jack grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and received his first toy ambulance from a Scottish relative while he was a young boy. When his son, Bill, started down the path of becoming an emergency medical technician, the couple began to grow their collection. Whenever they traveled in retirement, they’d look for toy ambulances. They also served on the hospital foundation board and volunteered at PVH.

Kathy holds a toy ambulance while Joann looks at it.
Joann Herkenhoff, right, helps Kathy Nicol pick among the toy ambulance collection to see which ones to display at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital on Oct. 11, 2018. Herkenhoff began working with Kathy and her late husband in 2014 to determine how the UCHealth Foundation – Northern Colorado could use the ambulance collection of more than 400 to honor the late Jack and Elsie Nicol, a couple that gave so much to the hospital over the years.

“Jack came down with polio after contracting malaria while serving in World War II,” Kathy said. “He was put into an iron lung. His hospital room on the first floor of the original (PVH) hospital, now where the ER is located, allowed him to look out the window and see both of his sons sitting on the lawn. He always credited PVH for saving his life and was thrilled to volunteer as a way to pay back for all the help he received during his recovery.”

“Jack was the second male ever to become a volunteer at the hospital, and the couple volunteered for many years,” added Annette Geiselman, the foundation’s development manager.

the couple pictured in front of the hospital on the front cover of a 1991 local news magazine.
Jack and Elsie Nicols service to their community and Poudre Valley Hospital got them front cover.

After retiring from a successful real estate business, the evidence of which is still present today in Fort Collins’ Campus West area, Jack collaborated with local attorney, David Wood, to establish the Poudre Valley Hospital Foundation. He served as the foundation president for three years and continued as a board member for 15 years.

Kathy remembers the ambulance collection showcased on bookshelves inside the couple’s back door. When Jack passed away in 2000, and Elsie died a few years later, Kathy and her husband, John, became proprietors of the collection. In 2014, they reached out to the now UCHealth Foundations – Northern Colorado, wanting to donate the collection of more than 400 pieces in Jack and Elsie’s memory. John passed away in January 2017, but Kathy was there on Oct. 11, 2018, to place her favorites in the new case.

Kathy stands in front of the display
Kathy Nicol, the daughter-in-law of Jack and Elsie Nicol, stands in front of a new display at PVH that memorialized the couple’s years of services to Fort Collins and the hospital.

The collection on display has almost two dozen mini ambulances from around the world. A yellow Volkswagen bus from Germany, a French Red Cross helicopter, and a Philadelphia Bureau of Fire truck show the diversity of the Nicols’ toy ambulance collection — both in age and geography.

Also among the collection: a 1930 Ford Model A Emergency Ambulance decanter car. Jim Beam bourbon started releasing collector decanters in the early 1950 to celebrate politics, sports and history.

A Lake City Area Medical Center ambulance, dated 1991, marks the Colorado mountain community’s opening of a new medical facility.

The collection also provides a historical retrospective on the era when emergency transport moved from horses to automobiles to ambulances.

Kathy looks at white ambulance
Kathy Nicol looks at one of the toy ambulances that is part of the late Jack and Elsie Nicols’ collection, now on at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital.

Although much of Jack’s collection was “look, don’t touch” for his grandchildren, some of his collection was comprised of fun toys. Kathy remembers a large ambulance that children could move with their feet, and a large hospital and ambulance made from Legos.

With such a large donation, the foundation knew that not all of the mini ambulances could be displayed. In keeping with the Nicols’ philanthropic spirit and support of their community and emergency services, many of the toy ambulances were given to children who arrived at an UCHealth northern Colorado emergency room for care.

Ambulances that had a specific theme, such as Legos or M.A.S.H, were put together as an auction package at the foundation’s 2017 Spring Benefit. The proceeds supported — what else? — UCHealth’s emergency services.

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.