Katherine Nicklin (née Aronson), social worker, inspirational leader of Quaker organizations and loving mother, aunt and grandmother to three generations of Nicklins and Berners, died peacefully on August 19, 2014, at her beloved home on Shelter Island, where her extended family had gathered to care for her and each other.
Born July 17, 1924, in Brooklyn, she was the daughter of successful milliner and entrepreneur Emma Rudolphi Aronson and her husband, Sam Aronson. Always a brilliant student and dutiful daughter, Kate went to work full-time around her school schedule to support her mother and young sister, Ruth, during the Depression, when her father abandoned the family and her mother lost her business.
Kate graduated from high school at age 16 and attended Brooklyn College, while continuing to support her family. When her fiancé, Joel Abelson, was killed in action in World War II, she abandoned her dream of pursuing a Ph.D. in English literature and determined to use her life and skills to serve others as a social worker.
After graduating from Brooklyn College, Kate earned her master’s in social work from Western Reserve in Cleveland, and then returned to New York City to work for Travelers Aid, assisting displaced persons and refugees from Europe as they were resettled in New York.
She met her future husband, Dr. George L. Nicklin, on a bicycle trip with friends to Martha’s Vineyard in 1949 and, according to family legend, they were already planning the number of children they would have on the returning ferry.
George and Kate were married under the care of 15th Street Friends Meeting in 1950, and they worked together throughout their lives as a team, parenting, grandparenting and mentoring others professionally and as leaders in the Quaker community. As members of Westbury Friends Meeting on Long Island, the Nicklins were instrumental in founding the Westbury Friends School, which their four young children then attended.
Kate returned full time to her career in 1965, serving the Westbury public schools and the families of students until her retirement in 1989. At the same time, Kate’s special gifts for spiritual leadership and clear vision were recognized in the community of Friends (Quakers), and she was tapped to serve first as Clerk of Westbury Meeting and numerous committees in New York Yearly Meeting, and later as Clerk of New York Yearly Meeting as a whole, from 1974 to 77.
Kate also provided valuable leadership for many years to the American Friends Service Committee, during two terms as the Clerk of the New York Regional Office, as a member of the Board from 1979 to 2001, and as the treasurer of AFSC from 1994 to 2000.
Next to her devotion to her family and children, her commitment to Friends, and especially to AFSC, was central to her life’s work and allowed her talents to bloom and inspire many others. She was extraordinarily gifted as a clerk who could find the sense of a meeting and lead a group of Friends through contentious waters to a shared vision.
The Nicklins fell in love with Shelter Island on their first family vacation here in 1957, when they rented one of the farm area buildings in Shorewood. They built a cottage on Heron Lane in 1963, where they spent happy summers and wintry weekends with their children and grandchildren for 50 years. Intrigued by the significant links to Quakers in Shelter Island history, George started a Friends Meeting here, to which they both belonged for many years. In 2004, the Nicklins joined Kate’s sister, Ruth Berner, and her husband, Jerry, in retirement on the Island.
When their health became more fragile, they moved to the Quaker retirement community, Medford Leas, in Medford, New Jersey, spending time at Shelter Island whenever possible. George passed away in 2007, at the age of 81, while Kate courageously continued as the soul and rock of her large family, caring deeply and with tender kindness and wisdom for each one.
We were especially blessed to have her presence at the recent weddings of two of her grandchildren and her own joyful 90th birthday celebration last summer. Her loss is keenly felt by her dearly loved children, Emily Nicklin, David Nicklin (Amy Kietzman), Jane Nicklin Olsen (Bob Olsen) and Sarah Nicklin (Jim Moreno); her cherished grandchildren, Max Schleusener (Meg Hammond), Luke and Anna Schleusener, Kate, Megan and Sarafina Kietzman-Nicklin, Emma and Elizabeth Olsen, Molly Olsen Lewen (Mike Lewen) and Graham, Clara and Olivia Moreno; her dear brother-in-law, Jerry Berner; and beloved nieces and nephew, Julie Berner Getlan (Rob Getlan), Susan Berner Gigli (Massimo Gigli) and Danny Berner (Lenore DiLeo Berner); and great niece Hannah Berner, and great nephews Nick DiChiaro, Simon and Jonah Gigli and Daniel Berner. Mom, thank you for the indefatigable caring, the deep listening and the profound wisdom you gave us every day of our lives.
Memorial services will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, November 8, at Fifteenth Street Friends Meeting, Rutherford Place, New York and at 1 p.m. at 9 Heron Lane, Shelter Island, on November 28. In lieu of flowers, the family would gratefully accept donations to one of the following:
The George and Kate Nicklin Medical Research Fellowship Fund at the University of Chicago. (Make checks payable to the University of Chicago with Nicklin Fellowship on the memo line.) Attention: Paul Seeley, Executive Director, Regional Major Gifts, University of Chicago, 7th Floor, 5235 South Harper Court, Chicago, Illinois, or American Friends Service Committee, AFSC Development, 1501 Cherry Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19102.