Manatee County lost a highly respected and admired pillar of the community with the passing of Dan Nolan last Friday. Called out of retirement in 2000, Dr. Nolan, Ed.D., resurrected a trouble Manatee County School District during his three years as superintendent, an achievement that illustrates his considerable professional and personal skills.
While serving as director of curriculum and staff development, Dr. Nolan composed snippets about his career, which he titled "A Thirty Year Journey Through Education" with a subtitle of "An Evolution of Professional Philosophy." His words, updated eight years later, mirror the testimonials now coming from the community.
"As I began to work with teachers I found that, if I had their confidence and they had my support, great things happened," Dr. Nolan wrote.
Larry Simmons, a former school board member who met Dr. Nolan when both taught in the district in the 1960s, offered a telling remark in education writer Meghin Delaney's Saturday report on his death at age 76: "He was the kind of person you would want to model yourself after. If he said he was going to do something, he did it."
And with great success.
At age 40, Dr. Nolan received a challenge from the superintendent -- "to head a troubled elementary school," he wrote. "Once I had the confidence of the teachers and parents, the school began to progress. The third year I was there, we won the Little Red School House Award from the National Association of Elementary School Principals."
That experience would serve him well as superintendent.
From his early days in the classroom, he advanced from one administrative job to another, finally advancing to assistant superintendent in 1995.
After his retirement in 1998, the school board needed someone to restore public trust and improve employee morale after the district fell into disgrace under then-Superintendent Gene Denisar. He accomplished those tough goals by mending fences with the community.
During his three years as superintendent, Dr. Nolan also led the district's historic transition into technology.
His reach and reputation extended statewide. While a school principal, he was identified as a "high performer" by the Department of Education and was appointed to a council created by the governor and the Legislature. "My involvement in the research-based principal competencies led to my being a principal-on-assignment for the deputy commissioner," he wrote.
Dr. Nolan also worked as a consultant-trainer on the state's reform movement, known as Blueprint 2000. The education commissioner tasked him with preparing numerous districts statewide for the initiative, and he noted afterward: "The teachers, administrators, parents and business leaders were wonderful."
Tributes to Dr. Nolan are easy to come by.
From school board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner: "For all who truly knew him, he was a model of decency who earned our respect and affection. He was a very important figure in this community."
From former school board member Barbara Harvey: "He was an educational leader for Manatee County who was able to not only feel the pulse of the educators but also the pulse of this community."
Dr. Nolan's commitment to community can be seen in his many outside endeavors, through his presidencies of the West Bradenton Rotary Club and Meals on Wheels; his chairmanship of the United Way of Manatee County fund drive; and his service on numerous boards and other civic connections.
He died surrounded by family. "His heroic and long battle with recurring cancer was fought with grace and quiet determination," the family wrote in his obituary in the Herald.
Dr. Nolan set a standard of excellence in all he did. Describing the beginning of his career, he wrote: "Teaching for me was exciting as I watched those students learn, grow and mature."
His was a life well lived.
The family will receive friends from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Friday at Shannon Funeral Home Westview Chapel, 5610 Manatee Ave. W. A celebration of life will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Christ Episcopal Church, and interment will follow at Fogartyville Cemetery in Bradenton.