SUNSET — Even after his wife died 23 years ago, Dan Choate's parents-in-law treated him as their own son.
"I don't remember ever calling them anything but Mom and Dad," Choate said.
So Choate was crushed when he arrived at a house fire in Sunset on Friday and was met with the worst news possible: Former Sunset mayor, 94-year-old John Nicholas, and his wife, 93-year-old Nada Nicholas, had died when their home of seven decades went up in fire and smoke.
"It was as though they were my parents who passed away," Choate said.
The couple's bodies were found inside their home at 146 W. 1900 North following a fire that was first reported around 1:20 p.m., authorities said.
"Residents in the neighborhood saw smoke and tried to gain entry into the home," said Sunset Police Chief Ken Eborn. "They were unable to, due to the heat and the smoke."
Police and fire crews arrived to find the home fully involved. The cause of the fire was unknown Friday, though there were no indications of suspicious activity, the Sunset Fire Department reported. The home was considered likely to be a total loss.
Choate said the Nicholases were frail and needed help from hospice workers several times a day, which may have meant the smoke overtook them before they could react to what was happening. According to Sunset Fire Chief James Weston, a hospice worker had been with the Nicholases about 45 minutes before the fire was reported.
But Choate won't remember the couple as frail, he said, but as dedicated and kind people who were respected in their community.
"You could probably talk to 70 percent of the people (even) right now that live in Sunset and they would know (the Nicholases)," he said. "And they would be able to tell you stories of (their) kindness."
John Nicholas was on the Sunset City Council for 18 years and the mayor of Sunset for 10 years, in addition to serving as a bishop and stake president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Nada Nicholas was the director of the Miss Davis County pageant for six years and also served with the Utah League of Cities and Towns, according to a 70th wedding anniversary announcement the couple filed with the Standard-Examiner in 2014.
For all their outward accomplishments, the romance the two had for each other was even more extraordinary, Choate said.
"I don't know that you could write a novel about a love story and have it be any more unique and inspirational than their love story as a couple," he said.
Choate said the couple, who loved to laugh and joke together, once quipped that they wouldn't mind dying in each other's arms, just like the protagonists in the movie "The Notebook."
"They would say, you know, that's how we would hope to go. We would hope to go at the same time," he said. "Obviously, this is not the way any of us wanted them to go, but just the idea that they went together is in some ways comforting."
The Nicholases impacted their neighbors so much that in "every one of the homes, everybody was crying" Friday in homes up and down the block, according to Choate. But while all those who loved the couple have a void to fill, Choate said he is grateful they have each other even now.
"They're still together and they will be eternally," he said.
Contributing: Andrew Adams