Robert Duncan Nicol has never heard the sound of his own voice. He did not speak until he was 10 years old. But since Nicol found his voice, he has dedicated his life to proving that deafness, while limiting, would never deter him from achieving his dreams.

Now a retired architect and vineyard-owner, Nicol has committed to helping individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing by pledging $2 million to Fresno State’s Department of Communicative Disorders & Deaf Studies in the College of Health and Human Services. His gift establishes the Robert Duncan Nicol Endowed Chair in the Silent Garden and is the largest single gift to the College of Health and Human Services.

A celebration of his generosity was held Friday, Jan. 27, at Fresno State’s Kremen Education Building. University President John D. Welty formally announced the gift and Nicol spoke to members of the deaf community, hoping to improve their lives not only through his gift, but also through his personal story.

[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]I’m able to prove that deaf people indeed can do many things.[/quote]

Nicol has been overcoming stereotypes from a young age. He attended the Army and Navy Academy of Carlsbad before graduating from University of California, Berkeley with a degree in architecture. In 1993 Nichol was named a Fellow of the American Architects, one of the most prestigious professional designations for architects in the nation.

In 2005, Nicol purchased 20 acres of vineyards in Napa, where he established Robert Nicol Vineyards, growing pinot noir and chardonnay grapes for nearby wineries.

Known for his adventurous nature, Nicol leads an active life with diverse interests. By feeling the vibrations of music he learned to play the piano and guitar. His passions also include horseback riding, sailing, parachuting, skiing and co-piloting small airplanes.

Nicol credits his parents for opening doors of opportunity to him at a young age. He says children who are deaf or hard of hearing need special educational support to unlock their individual talents. “That support was pretty obvious to me when I visited Fresno State,” says Nicol. “Other schools may or may not have it, but I found it in Fresno and I am more than happy to support them.”

The gift will benefit The Silent Garden, a project to cultivate communication for the deaf and hard of hearing community of Central California.

The Robert Duncan Nicol Endowed Chair in the Silent Garden will bring experts from across the nation to teach at Fresno State and conduct outreach with the community. A new guest lecturer will be invited each year to teach and provide free workshops, seminars and counseling services for teachers, parents and professionals.

The Silent Garden was established by Fresno State professor emeritus Dr. Paul W. Ogden. “In the past two decades, most research in the deafness-related fields has been done by experts on the East Coast. The West Coast suffers from this lack of research and support from experts,” Ogden said.

Ogden has known Nicol since 1972. The two men share a passion to change the landscape of deaf education.

[quote style=”boxed”]“The Silent Garden is a community oriented program focused on sharing knowledge and training families,” Ogden says. “The deaf population can often be invisible, but Silent Garden will help us bring awareness to the community.”[/quote]

He has published numerous papers and articles about educating deaf and hard of hearing children. Ogden’s book “The Silent Garden: Raising Your Deaf Child” was first published in 1982 and translated into Spanish in 2002.

The Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies in the College of Health and Human Services at Fresno State trains professionals in speech-language pathology, audiology, deaf education and interpreting. Alumni of the department work to provide education and opportunities to deaf and hard of hearing children and adults, helping them to grow, flourish and thrive in our community.

For more information, contact Kathleen R. Schock, the campaign communications director, at 559.278.2756 or

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