Donald Herbert Nikolaus, lawyer and business and community leader | Obituary

Donald Herbert Nikolaus, 79, of Silver Spring, PA, died Tuesday morning, February 1, 2022, at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia, PA, after a long illness.

Don was born in Columbia, PA on April 17, 1942, the youngest son of Paul Joseph and Alma Marie (Baker) Nikolaus.

He attended Holy Trinity Catholic School (now known as Our Lady of the Angels Catholic School) and graduated from Lancaster Catholic High School in 1960. Don then attended Villanova University and graduated from the School of Business and Finance in 1964. He was active in many college organizations such as the Blue Key Society, the Delta Pi MU Fraternity and the Economist Society.

After being accepted under the preceptorship of attorney Wilson Bucher (later Lancaster County Presiding Judge), Don entered Villanova Law School, where he served as a resident assistant in the undergraduate school, graduating in 1967 a Doctor of Laws degree and passing the State. Bar exam that year. He was admitted to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and to the Lancaster County Bar in January 1968. After law school, Don practiced law under attorney Wilson Bucher, his tutor. After his tenure with the Bucher law firm, Don joined Columbia law firm William Blank. In 1968, Colonel Blank assigned Don the task of providing legal advice to the Columbia Borough School District, an account to this day managed by the law firm Nikolaus & Hohenadel.

In April 1972, Don joined fellow Colombian Villanova Law School graduate John P. Hohenadel to form the law firm Nikolaus & Hohenadel. The firm has grown over the years with twenty-three (23) attorneys across four (4) locations serving the greater Lancaster County area. Don continued to practice law until his recent passing, encompassing an astounding legal career with a particular focus on corporate law, estate law and municipal law.

In 1972, following an introduction to J. Edward Charles, Chairman and Chief Executive of Donegal Mutual Insurance Co., Don was appointed the youngest member of the Donegal Board at the age of 30. In 1981, following the untimely and sudden death of Mr. Charles, Don was elected President and Chief Executive Officer, a position he held until 2018. He also served as President, Chief executive and director of Donegal Group, Inc. from 1986 to 2016. Don took a small national insurance company, whose initial mission was to provide fire and casualty insurance to farmers and expanded it into a national business . Using his keen business acumen and foresight, the company began to grow, buying up similar smaller insurers across the United States and soon Donegal was recognized as an important component of the insurance industry. . Under his guidance and his sixth business acumen, Donegal entered the banking sector by establishing Province Bank and buying the former Union National Mount Joy Bank. Donegal also expanded into the title insurance business with the purchase of Conestoga Title Insurance Co., an acquisition it continued for many years. At the time of his death he was Chairman of the Board of Donegal Mutual Insurance Co. and Chairman of the Board of Conestoga Title Insurance Co. compiling a fifty (50) year career in this industry. He was also Past President of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania.

Additionally, Don became involved with the Columbia Water Co., one of the oldest private water companies in the United States. He served as president of the company and, applying his gifted business logic, launched the water company on an expansion program acquiring the former Marietta Water Gravity Co. and expanding the service area to include the boroughs of Columbia, Marietta and Mountville as well as four (4) townships in Lancaster and York counties. Columbia’s Pump and Filter Plant has been expanded and modernized, a project Don spearheaded and which has given him a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

Don’s community affiliations were wide and varied. Its largest was Columbia Catholic Housing for the Elderly. He took the original idea presented to him by the late Mary Loreto, a Columbia legend, and with the late Msgr. Rudolf Fuhr, developed what would become the two (2) high-rise apartment buildings in Colombia known as Trinity House and St. Peter’s Apartments, providing quality housing for the elderly. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) as a director for many years. Don has served as a director of numerous community organizations including the Columbia Healthcare Foundation, Economic Development Corp. of Lancaster Co., Lancaster Alliance, St. Anne’s Retirement Community and Past President of the Columbia Rotary Club.

Don was a life member of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Columbia, Holy Name of Jesus Society, St. Vincent de Paul Society, and served on the parish and Diocese of Harrisburg Finance Committees. He was also a member of the Knights of Columbus, Columbia Council 2294, and a fourth degree member of the Santa Maria General Assembly.

Don considered the greatest honor bestowed on him was his invitation to join and become a member of the Knights of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, a Catholic order founded in 1099 AD and in continuous existence ever since. He was inducted into the Order at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

Don was predeceased by his parents, his brother Paul J. Nikolaus, Jr. and many beloved aunts and uncles. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth (Rankin), his daughters Lauren Zink of Lancaster, PA, Anne Nikolaus of Haverford, PA and his son Matthew Nikolaus of Silver Spring, PA, his grandson Tyler Zink, his granddaughters Lindsay and Kate Zink, all of Lancaster, PA. and Victor Nikolaus-Pereira of Haverford, Pennsylvania. He is also survived by his brother Gerald Nikolaus, his sisters-in-law Lucretia Nikolaus and Margaret Nikolaus Bransby, all of Columbia, PA; Mary Stadden and Julie Fulmer of Lancaster, PA and brothers-in-law Richard Rankin of Fairfax, VA and John Rankin of Salisbury, MD. Also survived by her stepmother, Lucy Lolli Rankin.

A Christian Burial Mass will be held at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, 409 Cherry St., Columbia, PA on Saturday, February 12, 2022 at 11:00 a.m. with Fr. Stephen Kelley officiating. There will be no public viewing.

In lieu of flowers, those who wish to honor Donald may do so by making a contribution to Our Lady of the Angels Catholic School, 404 Cherry St., Columbia, PA 17512. Those who still prefer to send flowers should direct the delivery of bouquets to Holy Trinity Church, 409 Cherry St., Columbia, PA 17512 to arrive there by 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 12, 2022. Personal handwritten condolences will be greatly appreciated and may be mailed to Clyde W. Kraft Funeral Home , 519 Walnut St., PO Box 231, Columbia, PA 17512.

The live stream of the funeral mass can be viewed at

Arrangements by Clyde W. Kraft, Inc. Funeral Home, Columbia/Landisville.

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