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Memorial services set for Socrates Nicholson

Thursday, February 21st, 2013 | Posted by

A visitor stands outside the Greek chapel Socrates Nicholson built on his ranch.

Socrates Nicholson was the American-born son of Greek immigrants, someone who so embraced his heritage that he built a replica of a Greek chapel atop his ranch especially for his daughter’s christening.

Nicholson died Feb. 16 at the Sonoma Valley ranch, now home to an artisan winery under the Nicholson Ranch label. He was 87.

Nicholson and his late wife, Bettye, purchased the 160-acre hillside property on Napa Road in 1962, a year after their marriage.

It served as a cattle ranch, Christmas tree farm and grazing land before the couple’s daughter, Ramona Nicholson, suggested turning the property into a winery. It opened to the public in 2003.

Visitors to the ranch, located near the Sonoma-Napa border, can spot hints of the family’s Greek heritage as well as Nicholson’s capable skills as a ranch hand. In addition to the white-stucco, one-room chapel, Nicholson built fences and walls of collected stone and blazed uphill trails. The ranch also features an authentic Greek amphitheater.

His multi-level concrete-and-cascade system designed to gather rainfall turns into a wintertime waterfall that empties into a lake on the property.

By profession, Nicholson was a court reporter and owned a firm in San Francisco, where he was born and attended George Washington High School. He also met his wife in the city.

He was a United States Marine Corps veteran of World War II. Nicholson joined the Marines at age 17, immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was part of the 3rd Marine Amphibious Corps and participated in the recapture of Guam, Saipan, Tinian, Peleliu and Okinawa.

After his military service, he attended college and toured Europe, including the Greek islands.

After the Korean War broke out, he returned to San Francisco and worked on the Military Sea Transportation Service tankers that transported the troops across the Pacific.

While his first name was an obvious tribute to his Greek heritage, his Americanized surname gave little hint of his true roots: Nicolacopoulos. The name was changed when his father came through Ellis Island in the early 1900s.

In addition to his daughter, Nicholson is survived by his stepson, Michael Coughlan, and his grandchildren, Zander, Taylor and Natalie Gulrajani.

Family members say he will be remembered for his incredible sense of humor and zest for life.

Nicholson was buried at the Greek Orthodox Memorial Park in Colma.

A memorial service celebrating his life will be held at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 2 at Burlingame Hall at First Congregational Church, 252 W. Spain St.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Presentation School, 20872 Broadway, Sonoma 95476.

– Dianne Reber Hart

Writer Spotlight

Dianne Reber Hart is our Sonoma correspondent.

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