2021 Alexis De Tocqueville Mentor: Dick Nicely

A graduate of North Canton Hoover High School, Richard (Dick) Nicely, earned a degree in Civil Engineering in Syracuse, New York, and is a veteran of the Army Corps of Engineers.  After college, Dick returned to Canton, and joined his father, Christy, at R. G. Smith Company.  Christy bought the company and Dick purchased it from his father.  R. G. Smith, an industrial general contractor, is now in its third generation of Nicely leadership with Dick’s son, Geoff, serving as Chief Operating Officer.

The business continued to grow after Dick joined the leadership team.  Then in 1999 Dick’s life changed.  He noticed a tremor in his thumb and thought maybe it was stress-related. After getting three doctor’s opinions he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Dick says, “Parkinson’s has made me humble.”  He became passionate about finding a cure and served on the Board of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for 5 years and continues to support them.  He has served as chairman of the Parkinson’s Action Network lobbying in Washington, D.C. for funding for Parkinson’s research. 

In 2016, he opened Rock Steady Boxing, across from R. G. Smith facilities in Canton.  Rock Steady Boxing is a nationwide program that provides exercise and physical training to Parkinson’s patients.  “The Michael J. Fox Foundation does a great job raising money for research.  And physical activity is very important in slowing the progression of the disease.  That’s why I opened Rock Steady Boxing.”

Dick describes himself as a “driver” and says, “You have to have a passion; a drive to make things happen.” His drive to make things happen locally has been evident by his board service on Whispering Grace Horses, a non-profit faith-based program dedicated to providing hope for people through building relationships with horses and with each other.  It was Dick’s vision to establish Freedom Farm at Whispering Grace Horses to serve veterans and their families. He had the idea, and then, as usual, he provided the leadership to make it happen. Dick has a simple philosophy about giving and participating in his passions. “I like to make a difference in people’s lives, and I have done that. If you can’t make a difference, you’re not doing your job.”

Dick says being a mentor is something you just evolve into.  “I’ve had many business friends that I would consider mentors.”  It is a relationship that develops through daily interactions like watching someone solve issues.  “I love solving problems,” he says.  “You don’t sit down with someone and say, ‘I’m going to teach you something.’ It just happens.”

Dick is being honored by Geoff and Shawn Marie Nicely, his son and daughter-in-law.  Geoff says, “Our father has, and continues to be, an inspiration when it comes to philanthropy and his love of this community. Richard has donated much of his time and money to various organizations in the community over the years.  We felt the best way to recognize his generosity and his mentorship would be to honor him this way, by making this donation in his name.