James "Dave" David Nichols, 84, of Anita, IA, passed away on Saturday, November 4, 2023, at Cass Health in Atlantic, IA.
With the passing of J. David Nichols of Nichols Farms in Bridgewater, on Nov. 4, 2023, the industry lost a unique legend, and his family, friends, the Nichols Farm crew, and his community lost a pillar. In the beef industry, Dave was one of the very few remaining from the first generation of performance pioneers from the 1950s that blazed a path for a new type of beef industry that was based on science and objective selection. He also was the last living member of the very first Beef Improvement Federation board from 1968. They were responsible for pulling all aspects of the industry together to standardize performance terminology, techniques, and processes. During his 70-year career breeding seedstock, Dave never took his eyes off the horizon, always looking for new technology and the chance to participate in research that would move both Nichols Farms and the beef industry forward. Dave was a devoted American patriot who, when giving his speech running for the board at the Angus convention, made it clear that the decisions he made if elected would be based first on what would be best for the country, second what was best for the industry, and third what was best for the Angus breed. He never wavered from this general hierarchy. If you extended his decision-making to Nichols Farms, you would add in their commercial bull customers after the industry for priorities, as he knew that Nichols could only be successful if their customers were successful.
The research Nichols Farms was involved with over the years started with progeny testing for genetic defects, with the first Angus Bulls Nichols Farms sold guaranteed not to sire dwarf or red calves. After that, the list of projects gets long. Nichols Farms was involved in ultrasound research, genomic discovery, and instrument grading. They flushed their open Angus cows in cooperation with a genomic company for discovery of genomic markers for early embryonic death loss. They are currently working with feed efficiency, and at this coming year’s bull sale, will be releasing the industry’s first genetic prediction for cattle less susceptible to bovine respiratory disease. As the largest seedstock operation in the Midwest, Nichols Farms has sold industry changing genetics throughout the country, as well as in 30 other countries. This included numerous national champions in Argentina, even though it is unlikely that a halter could be found on all of Nichols Farms.
The list of awards Dave has received is too long for this space, but a few highlights are the highest awards bestowed upon a breeder by the Beef Improvement Federation, Iowa State University, American Simmental Association, American Angus Association, Livestock Publication Council, and the Saddle and Sirloin Portrait Award, which is the highest honor in the livestock industry. He also served on about every board and council of substance in the beef industry. After winning the FFA National Public Speaking Contest in 1956, he rarely went long without a microphone in his hand speaking to some cattle producers meeting.
Although Dave leaves behind him another lifetime of ideas and plans for a more efficient and profitable beef industry, it is comforting to know that he is reunited with his wife and soulmate Phyllis and his beloved brother and partner Lee, both of whom proceeded him in death. Dave cherished his family, friends, and loyal staff that he was so proud of. Born Nov. 24, 1938, in Lincoln, Neb., Dave met his future wife Phyllis at the Adair County Fair while both were helping younger brothers and sisters get cattle ready to show. Both attended ISU – but dropped out to get married when Phyllis was a junior. The couple were married on May 15, 1965. Dave collected Oliver tractors and enjoyed watching sports, particularly football, with his family. His favorite teams included the Iowa State Cyclones and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Survivors include son Fletcher Nichols of Anita; daughter Jennifer Nichols of Atlantic; sister-in-law and partner in Nichols Farms, Lillian Nichols of Fontanelle; brother-in-law Lans Gibbs of Greenfield; nephew Chuck and wife Laurie Nichols of Wichita, Kan. and their family; niece Deb and husband Brandon Wetterberg of Des Moines and their family; niece Ann (Gibbs) and husband Shan Duncan of Greenfield; niece Jill Gibbs of Minnesota; sister Edy Hill of Indianola; nephew Lee Hill of Des Moines; niece Angie Carson of Illinois and her family; Cousins from the Atlantic and Lewis areas; Nichols Farms employees and their families, caregiver Connie Emgarten and her family. He is also survived by two grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Merrill and Gladys Nichols; his wife Phyllis; Phyllis’ parents, Audra and Marcella (Sally) Gibbs; sister, Ev Gibbs; brother, Lee Nichols; brother-in-law, Art Hill and niece, Gwen Hill.
Open visitation will be held from 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. with the family present from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 9, 2023, at the Schmidt Family Funeral Home in Atlantic, IA. Memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, November 10, 2023, at the Schmidt Family Funeral Home, with Pastor Lauri Boysen officiating. Interment will be at Greenfield Cemetery in Greenfield, IA.
Memorials may be directed to the Nichols Family in honor of Dave. They will be designated at a later date to some of his favorite local organizations and charities. They may be mailed to the Schmidt Family Funeral Home P.O. Box 523, Atlantic, IA.
Arrangements are handled with the Schmidt Family Funeral Home of Atlantic, IA.