Discovering Nan Dorland:
By Joan Champ - [email protected]
The following is the second installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow on Instagram @discoveringnan.
NAN’S CHILDHOOD AND FAMILY BACKGROUND
Nan (Annette Evangeline Danke) was born on Halloween in 1911 at the Chicago home of her affluent parents, Ernest and Eva Danke. Her father was in the real estate business with his father-in-law George C. Hield, a millionaire land developer. The two men developed all of what is now the southern part of Highland Park, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of downtown Chicago. Today, Highland Park is ranked as one of the best places to live in America.
George C. Hield is one of Nan’s more remarkable family members. Born in Janesville, Wisconsin on November 15, 1852. Hield married Ann Nettie Loucks in 1874 and moved to Chicago where he made millions in real estate. The Hields moved to Florida where they bought land to grow citrus fruit. Unfortunately, their fortune was lost in the Florida real estate crash of 1925, with further losses in the stock market crash of 1929. The Hields moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1942 when George was 90 years old. Hield made a financial comeback in Phoenix. In 1947 he built a 20-acre resort hotel in the Arcadia district of the city. He sold Echo Lodge in 1950 for $100,000 when he was 98 years old.
George Hield outlived four of his five children and some of his grandchildren, dying in Arizona at the age of 104 on May 21, 1957. At age 100, Hield met Nan’s 1-year-old son John in 1951, a year after she passed away from complications of childbirth.
Nan’s father Ernest had amassed enough money in the Chicago real estate business to buy an orchard in Los Angeles, California in 1927. This move may also have been precipitated by the fact that Nan’s mother was in poor health.
Nan’s mother Evangeline, born in Chicago in 1888, died of Lymphoma at the young age of 41 on November 18, 1929 when Nan was 18 years old.
Nan’s father Ernest remarried on August 5, 1943 to the vivacious Ida Perry (1907-1987) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Well educated, Ida had worked for nine years as a legal secretary for a Chicago law firm before being sworn in as an officer candidate in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps.
After Nan died in 1950, Ernest and Ida legally adopted her infant son, John Ernest Albrecht. Nan’s second husband John Albrecht of northern Saskatchewan visited his son John at the Danke’s 35-acre orange grove in California every year until the boy was about 10 years old.
Nan Dorland suffered severely from chronic stomach ulcers as an adult, to the point that she underwent surgeries throughout her life. Her health problems may have had their roots in childhood anxieties. Nan’s family moved frequently. By my count, Nan attended eight schools over the course of ten years.
The most stressful school move for Nan took place in 1925-1926 when she was sent to high school at Ward-Belmont College, an all-girls boarding school in Nashville, Tennessee. She lasted, perhaps, one year. Maybe Nan was sent to boarding school due to her mother’s ill-health. Maybe Nan had become a handful at age 14. Or maybe Nan’s parents simply wanted the best education for their only daughter. This strict southern finishing school must not have suited Nan. By Grade 10 she was back at home with her parents in Illinois attending a public high school.
In the spring of 1927, the Danke family moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. This would have been a difficult move for 16-year-old Nan, who completed her sophomore year at Hollywood High School.
In 1928-1929, Nan was a student at one of the best drama schools in Los Angeles, the Marta Oatman School of Theatre. While Nan was attending Oatman’s school two major events occurred. Her mother passed away and she changed her name from Annette Danke to Nan Dorland. She then set her cap for an acting career in radio, heading to Chicago in 1931.