Bernadette G. Nolan passed peacefully with family around her at her home in Savannah, GA on October 13, 2021. Bernadette and her husband Brian retired to Savannah from Springfield, IL in 1990. Brian preceded her in death on June 21, 2001.
Bernadette was born December 16, 1929, in Pawtucket, RI to Ernest “E.G.” and Katherine “Katie” Gagnon. She had fond memories of Rhode Island including playing on the beach with her brother Bobby in what is now Colt State Park in Bristol. She proudly recounted quahog hunting on the beach. Bernadette’s favorite annual trip was with her family back to her native New England to sit in the ocean breezes with a beautiful view of the sea.
In the 1930s and ‘40s, E.G. was fortunate to have good employment working as a manager for wire manufacturing facilities. He moved the family to the Ozone Park area of New York when Bernadette was in middle school just before the war.
Bernadette met Brian Nolan while he was a medical resident at St. Mary’s Hospital in Queens where he was overseeing a medical technician training program to which she had applied. While not particularly enthusiastic about the program she was more so about Brian. They were married soon after and having completed his commitment to military service they moved to the mid-west settling in Springfield where they established a medical practice and raised five children.
Bernadette was known to bring more than average determination to every endeavor. Having never been an active golfer before moving to Springfield, she practiced and played to a level where she became the Springfield City Champion once and Illini Country Club champion twice. She took up equestrian showing and jumping in her late 30s and early 40s and fostered a love for the sport in her daughter Sarah who still rides today.
She was actively engaged in the Springfield and Savannah communities and was a tireless fundraiser for charitable causes. She enjoyed collaborating with others who were equally as dedicated to advocacy for the arts in Springfield and the State of Illinois. As a member of the Springfield Art Association, she worked as Chairman of the Art Fair in 1971. She worked at the inception and founding of the nascent organization Springboard which later became the Springfield Area Arts Council and led the organization from 1978 through 1980. For those who know, they would likely agree that she was instrumental in securing the commitment of then Governor Jim Thompson to tour the Dana-Thomas House when it was still owned by Thomas Publishing and at risk of being sold to private parties and dismantled. That tour solidified the Governor’s commitment to preserving the Frank Lloyd Wright prairie style masterpiece for the public. She was also appointed to the Illinois Arts Council by Governor Thompson advocating for Illinois arts and artists. As a member of the IAC in the summer of 1985 Bernadette appeared before the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee to testify with actor Tony Randall on the importance of maintaining the business tax deduction for supporting art programs which was in danger of elimination by congress. While in Savannah she continued her work as a member of the local Savannah Rotary and volunteered to assist in the 1996 Summer Olympic sailing events held off the coast of Georgia.
The love of the arts and dedication to volunteerism are legacies her children endeavor to maintain today. Bernadette was just one of many residents who have tried to help lift their communities to become better places in which to live. And while many of her colleagues and friends have passed as well, the signs of their well-intended collaborations can be seen in the communities they loved.
Bernadette is survived by her five children, Jane Denes (John Blythe) of Springfield; Michael Nolan (Kim Wylie) of South Dartmouth, MA; Maude (Phil) Brezinski of San Mateo, CA; Sarah (Paul) Gary of Portland, OR; John Nolan (Lory Yates) of Pleasant Plains; eight grandchildren, Katie, Bela, Annie, Elizabeth, Maggie, Matthew, Nolan and Abigail and five great grandchildren.
No services will be held. If so inclined, please donate to your preferred charity or to the Dana-Thomas House Foundation, dana-thomas.org.
Services under the direction of:
Fox & Weeks Funeral Directors, Hodgson Chapel
- No Funeral Service