Discovering Nan Dorland – Nan’s Childhood and Family Background

Nan’s father Ernest E. Danke, c. 1925.

By Joan Champ

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 (Annette Evangeline Danke) had the good fortune to be born into an affluent Chicago family. She was born on Halloween in 1911 at the home of her parents, Ernest and Eva Danke. Her maternal grandfather George C. Hield was a millionaire land developer. Her father, in partnership with his father-in-law, 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.

Nan’s maternal grandfather George C. Hield is one of her 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. Hield managed to stay afloat in Florida despite his losses. 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.

Nan’s 100-year-old grandfather met her son John in 1951, a year after she passed away from complications of childbirth. 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.

Nan’s Parents

Nan’s father Ernest Edward Danke, born in Chicago in 1886, worked as a real estate developer with his father-in-law’s firm, George C. Hield and Company. In 1926 or 1927 Nan’s father Ernest had amassed enough money to buy an orchard business in Los Angeles, California. 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 at the young age of 41 on November 18, 1929 when Nan was 18 years old. Her death certificate shows that she died of a malignancy of the lymph glands which she had suffered from for about two years.

Nan’s 1-year-old son John Ernest Albrecht (Danke) being held by his step-grandmother Ida Perry on right and his 100-year-old great-grandfather George Hield on the left.

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. Perhaps Ernest Danke met Ida at the law firm in Chicago, as he still maintained a real estate office in the Windy City.

After Nan died in 1950, Ernest and Ida legally adopted her infant son, John Ernest Albrecht. 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’s School Years

Nan Dorland suffered severely from anxiety as an adult, to the point that she underwent numerous surgeries for chronic stomach ulcers. Her health problems may have had their roots in the fact that, as a child, 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.

Move to California

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 on November 18, 1929, and she changed her name from Annette Danke to Nan Dorland. She set her cap for an acting career in radio, heading to Chicago the following year.