The collection includes pieces dating as far back as 1946.

Toy ambulance collection symbol of even larger hearts

by Kati Blocker

Parked within a glowing glass case on the first-floor corridor between UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital Emergency Room and its main entrance is a small toy ambulance collection.

Kathy Nicol“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 display is just a sample of a larger collection from the Fort Collins philanthropist couple who had even larger hearts for their community and gave a lot of themselves to improve the lives of others.

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 got his first toy ambulance from a Scottish relative at a young age. However, it wasn’t until his son, Bill, started down the path of being an emergency medical technician that the couple began to grow their collection, eventually more than quadrupling its size, according to Kathy. That collection grew during their travels in retirement—when they weren’t serving on the hospital foundation board or volunteering at PVH.

“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 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.”

Annette Geiselman, a development manager for PVH and MCR Foundation, said, “Jack was the second male ever to become a volunteer at the hospital, and the couple volunteered for many years.”

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 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 in 2000, and then Elsie a few years later, Kathy and her husband, John, became the collection’s proprietors. In 2014, they reached out to PVH and MCR Foundation, 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 at PVH on Oct. 11, 2018, to place her favorites in the new case.

The PVH collection on display showcases more than 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 1950s 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 look back to when emergency transport moved from horses to automobiles to the current ambulance trucks we’re familiar with, which didn’t start until 1979.

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

With such a big donation, the foundation knew all the pieces couldn’t be displayed. So in keeping with the Nicols’ belief in supporting the community and emergency services, many of the toy ambulances were given to children who arrived at a 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.