Please add your memories of Nancy at the bottom of this document.
We are thankful we had this last week to be with Nancy. Before going we were still trying to believe that a miracle was possible and that Nancy could recover from the cancer that was rapidly ravaging her body. After spending the week with her, it has finally sunk in that there will be no miraculous recovery, no happy ending to her life story that is quickly speeding towards its final chapter.
Nancy sleeps a lot as her body copes with the advancing cancer, the debilitating pain and the powerful pain meds coursing through her body. At times she is wonderfully Nancy---her wit, her sense of humor and her keen perceptions all on display. At those times we had some wonderful visits, good laughs and poignant talks. Increasingly, those times are giving way to some confusion, groping for words, and an inward focus to which only she is privy. At those times she seems to be in another world. A few times we weren't sure if she knew who we were and we could feel the dying process advancing all too quickly.
Her family is wonderful and couldn't have facilitated our visit any better. A highlight of our visit was sitting around Nancy's bed with her family while sharing dinners that Nancy had requested, and swapping Nancy stories as we reminisced together.
Nancy enjoys the cards and good wishes that arrive daily. She cannot always focus on individual messages, but is buoyed and comforted by the love and high regard for her that pours out of this collective outreach. While she is beyond responding in written form, her heart is filled by hearing from friends and colleagues. We can still see her tears of joy and hear her exclaim, “But where should you be now?” as we entered her room on the first day of our surprise visit. We answered, “ASW has sent us to deliver love from friends who miss you and who continue to value you.”
A few excerpts from some recent FB messages to Tanja:
Carmen Victor, a former ASW parent: What a tremendous loss! Hearts are grieving all over the world. Nancy was our introduction to the ASW! First our son Rex was in her class and 3 years later she was our daughter Margaret’s teacher. I enjoyed volunteering in her classroom. She ran a tight, but warm and loving ship. She certainly gave my two children and countless others (now some of them well into adulthood) a wonderful start at school. I can’t imagine the ASW without Ms. Dickinson. I am grateful the kids and I were able to visit with her when we were in Warsaw last summer. How special was Nancy? Well - every year on his birthday Rex asked me to make sure I brought in enough treats so that he could take one to Ms. Dickinson!
Sue Berton, a former 1st grade teammate: I am so grateful for T&J that they were able to represent us all and our love for Nancy! She was the best teaching partner I ever had!
Liz Freedman, a former ASW teacher: Nancy introduced me to the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage that changed my life! She invited me over for dinner and shared inside tips then sent me home with books, maps and loads of inspiration!
Donna Swagers, former Elementary Principal: Heaven must have needed a GREAT TEACHER and a special soul as Nancy was! One of the kindest, caring and sweet ladies I have ever known!
From Mark Gaspersic after Tanja & Joyce returned from visiting Nancy:
Just writing to express my sincere appreciation for the update you wrote regarding your visit to Nancy in Montana. While Nancy and I were not particularly close, she exuded the qualities of a dedicated and tireless teacher who was the first to arrive at ASW and the last to leave. These are valued attributes that are often taken for granted and / or overlooked. I just wish that she would have been able to end her career on her own terms rather than having it taken away by this terrible disease.
Please know that those of us who have been around awhile hold the two of you in the highest regard for making this trip to say farewell to a stalwart of the ASW community. To chronicle this journey in an e-mail for the staff takes a tremendous amount of courage but honors the memory and countless contributions that Nancy provided to the ASW community.
Jim Laney, former ES Principal
Thanks for forwarding Jon's note, Bas. I liked Nancy a lot and always respected her for the learning that happened in her classroom. She made many contributions beyond the classroom with her team mates and others. One of the people I would go to for a sounding board, to consider decisions or to reflect on them.
I will always remember making her an offer to come teach at ASW. We were in the restaurant at the Hyatt in Cambridge (Boston) and she jumped up and down, clapping her hands, saying, "I'm going to Poland!" She was so excited. I am glad she had a visit from ASW friends before passing.
All the best to everyone there,
Tanja: Nancy was an exemplary teacher. Her students always knew she loved them and respected them and they loved and respected her back. The same was true of their parents. Over the years she had a number of challenging students and she tirelessly spent hours and hours before and after school, meeting with their parents, showing lot of understanding, connecting parents to school counselors, designing improvement plans both for school as well as helping parents to carry them on at home. She knew her students well and worked long hours to differentiate instruction and assignments in order to meet their individual needs. Her manner was calm and she managed to bring her class in order almost magically using only her calm and quiet voice or even just “significant” silence. Her professionalism, her wisdom, her experience and her ability to focus on “big picture” was appreciated in meetings, during collaborative planning, in curriculum and accreditation committees. She was flexible and friendly and I enjoyed teaching collaboratively with her over the years as the EAL support teacher. She was friendly to and appreciated by her teacher colleagues, her administrators, her team (Kinder, 3rd grade, 1st grade), her teaching assistants, specialist teachers who worked with her. She also developed special bond with the cleaning ladies in all the areas of the school where she worked, despite the language barrier - pani Magda has even recorded a short video message to take to Nancy when Joyce and I visited and Nancy watched it over and over (all in Polish) looking visibly moved. On a personal level, I enjoyed Nancy’s sense of humor and her enthusiasm. It was ALWAYS fun and inspiring to talk to her, to travel with her, dine with her, discuss the books in the book club which she led as an avid reader. I will miss her greatly, both as a wonderful colleague and as a lovely friend!
Bill: I am reminded kindness, love, and warmth are more important than anything else. That I was able to smile, be kind, and emotionally connect with Nancy is a treasure. That I was able to feel the same from her is a memory I will never forget. It’s difficult to teach knowing she’s gone, but I wonder if that might be the highest form of remembering her. To smile and laugh with a colleague, to risk loving others, to really listen to others and to care. That is how I will honor her memory today.
Aleksandra Cechnicka, Polish Native Language Teacher ES: I had hoped for my daughter to start her school journey with Nancy in 1st grade this year…. I am always surprised how unexpected life can be.. To me, Nancy was a role model as a teacher and as a person- always kind, patient and respectful. I will remember her wearing long, flowery dresses; calming the kids down with her delicate and caring voice. Joyce and Tanya were saying that there were moments during their visits when Nancy did not know who they were...what matters is that you knew who she was...rest in peace Nancy.
Bonnie: In my first year at ASW, Nancy and Joyce, both avid walkers, took me under their wings to introduce me to Warsaw. We would meet every Sunday morning and go exploring sometimes tramping through muddy farm fields and sometimes finding a special place like the Flora Cafe. Nancy was also an avid reader of nonfiction who introduced me to books that I would not normally read such as Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. Nancy cared deeply about language and the precision with which it is used. When we read Mindset as a professional book club, Nancy highly recommended a book on a similar theme that she said is even better called Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston. Another example of how much she cared about the beauty and precision of language was during poetry month. I asked staff members to send me a poem they loved. Both Nancy and another teacher sent in “Ithaka.” I put both their names under one version of the poem. Nancy sent me an email asking “Can I humbly request that my favorite be the translation that I submitted? [The other teacher] picked a different translation but I did not pick that one.” I corrected it! Nancy loved this poem so much that she also had a copy on the front of her fridge in her kitchen. Here is the translation of the poem that Nancy loved:
By Constantine P. Cavafy
As you set out for Ithaka
Hope the voyage is a long one.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard
C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992
ANNA KRAWCZYK: It is a tremendous loss to our community and I have no words to express how I feel. The warmth and good energy Nancy brought to ASW can never be replaced. I will always remember her as an extremely kind, calm, and thoughtful person, both as a teacher, and as a colleague. I will keep those little memories in my heart - our discussions about her students that I was still learning to support during my first year in Resource and at ASW, our interesting conversations about her Quaker community during the reception at the Ambassador's, her excitement about the trip to Belgrade when I was working in the office, and her bringing a piece of "burek" to share, which I recommended her to try while in Serbia. And many, many more of these small, yet meaningful things and gestures. I am so thankful that Joyce & Tanja were able to visit Nancy, just to be with her, and share how much we all appreciate her.
Daryl Cosgro: Nancy was an extraordinary human being. She was the Merriam-Webster definition of “Integrity.”
Nancy was a spiritual and reflective person, she cared about her students, family, and friends She had a sparkle in her eye, and was a great storyteller. Nancy also gave up her time on a regular basis tutoring a young Polish student conversational English. She loved reading maps and was the chef navigational expert, when exploring new streets, places in and out of Poland. You will always be in my heart!
Anika Osuch: I’m sharing my sadness after the loss of Nancy. I find no words to express my feelings. This is why I’m putting here the most touching poem about the death. It’s written by Szymborska. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDyUDC1xNTU
Piotr: Dear Nancy- I will always remember you teaching PreKinder class these 15 year ago. I was very fortunate to watch you work with the little ones and learned some good stuff which help me with my own teaching. You will be alway remembered fondly as a great person and an outstanding educator.
Candace Michalyca: Nancy was a professional, caring, loving person who went out of her way to help others in any way that she could. She was an amazing listener, always quiet until the pearls of wisdom were needed for interjection. She supported friends and colleagues in such a loving in practical manner, that it was impossible not to accept and use her advice. Nancy made me laugh in the middle of tears, reflecting on a situation, stopping only to pause to turn the mood around. Her smile was never ending while her quiet demeanor and presence commanded attention and excellent behaviour from everyone. Her love of children, her family, her extended ASW family and friends will never be forgotten. Her professionalism could never be challenged nor measured as anything but superior. As we continue to walk the Chemin trail across France and Spain, Nancy will always be there in spirit guiding the challenge, smiling and cheering us on through the song of the wind. Bon Chemin mon ami.
Zuzana M.: Nancy was a great inspiration for me. Under her professional but caring and enthusiastic guidance, I got to explore the art of being an internationally minded teacher. What a better master teacher could anyone wish for? Just this weekend, before learning she passed away, I was sorting out some of my belongings and run across a copy of Apron Strings and Rowdy by Edna Aldridge and Jessie McKee. It brought back so many wonderful memories of Nancy and her stories. Those who knew this wonderful lady, understand… Rest in peace, Nancy.
Miriam J: Nancy told me a heart-warming story about a book that she loved as a child. Called Apron Strings and Rowdy (by Edna Aldridge and Jessie McKee, c1948), this story is about two young bear cubs, one bold, the other afraid of everything. Nancy lost track of the book for years but found it one summer when she was going through a pile of old stuff in her attic. She knew her young students would relate to it too and she read it every year to her first graders. She shared her love of books and reading with hundreds of children throughout her career.
Mike Avery. I don’t have a story to tell about Nancy, but I wanted to express how sorry I am that she is no longer with us. I truly believed when she left for the treatments that she would be back working with us and smiling her warm smile around our school. She will be missed.
Cecelia Cienska: Under Nancy’s quiet demeanor was a woman who was strong and passionate about inspiring her students. She had a sparkle in her eye and her face lit up when she smiled. My favourite time to be in Nancy’s class was during the poetry unit. She genuinely was excited to watch young poets burst forth in her students. She marvelled at their use of words and imagery, at the complexity of their emotions. It took a skilled teacher to be able to draw this out of all of her students. Nancy opened her class to me, taught me about the power of collaboration. She always had time to listen and to guide. I will miss her friendship but am grateful that our paths crossed and she touched my life.
Magda Kluczek: It is so hard to put all the feelings and memories of Nancy into words. And to realize we’ll never have a chance to talk and laugh again…
Nancy was a significant part of my life for 8 years when we were working together in first grade.
This time shaped me both as a person and a teacher. It inspired me to find my own path.
Nancy was my mentor and I appreciate every day
I was fortunate to spend with her. I admired her patience, peace and calmness, even in the stressful situations. She was always very caring, tactful and respectful. And these were the attitudes that she was passing on to her friends, students, colleagues and even an anonymous lady selling vegetables on the corner of her street.
She was a passionate and dedicated teacher. I adored her over the glasses look which without a single word made the whole class quiet. It was magic. She touched the lives of so many of us.
Dear Nancy, I am thankful for your friendship, guidance and inspiration.
You are in my mind and heart forever! I miss you so much!
Craig Belshe, Former ASW Elementary Principal: It is heartwarming to read the wonderful reflections about Nancy Dickinson and the significant impact she had on so many lives. I had the opportunity to speak to Nancy on many occasions this past year as she battled cancer. Her strength of character as a person played out in each of the conversations. I will always remember Nancy quite fondly, most especially her gentle spirit combined with a strong resolve as a person and educator. May God bless her on her next journey.
Noli Embradora former Assistant to Nancy- I remember myself going to get a new teacher in Kindergarten I knew her name even before I met her, and I am wondering if she knew mine. We broke the ice in few weeks after our meeting. I found her straightforward and professional to work with. Although she was new to the school and trying to adjust to her new home I could feel her enthusiasm of being part of ASW. She was a hardworking woman, and could be privy, but always open minded. We also found out that we are both Capricorn and our birthday have three days apart hers is 5th of January and I have 8th, so we decided to celebrate our birthday in the class at the same time. We got separated because of the cut of numbers in early childhood, but we keep greeting each other each year. I shared few laughs with her I am sure of it, but I can’t remember when and what is the occasion, she mentioned to me about her daughter Caroline, about living in Maine and a place where a lighthouse stood. I can vividly recall it, but not the name. Many have said about her, and I couldn’t agree more.
“In life like a lighthouse, she lightened the path of many children aboard the ship I called classroom, and she became friends to many of us. I will remember her until my time leave its passing, and If she is having another journey I believe her path is shining and clear. Godspeed.”
Stephen Sidaway, Activities Director and Parent of one of Nancy’s Children
From a parent’s perspective I always felt confidence in Nancy’s teaching but not just how to control Daniel in the classroom but confident that Nancy had each and every one of her students in her heart and taught them to love school, reading and the amazing journey that 1st grade offers. Nancy will truly be missed as one of those wonderful teachers whom we have been lucky enough to know and work alongside.
Indeed Donna, Heaven must need a Great Teacher.
I didn’t know Nancy particularly well but she was someone on occasion that I traveled to work with on the 710 or 139 buses. We’d make small talk or talk about past students that I currently had in my classes. She was always warm and kind. She also talked about her wonderful adventure filled travels. Over time, I rarely saw Nancy on the bus as she may have had more desirable transport options. But a couple of years ago, during a trying time, I happened to run into Nancy. I hadn’t seen her in months on the bus but there she was. She said” You’re in middle school so you need a hug”. I burst into tears and she hugged me and listened. Her compassion is what I needed at that moment. Everytime I think of her I am reminded of her kindness.
We were fortunate to have our daughter Juliana in Nancy's class a few years ago. She touched the hearts of so many children. Nancy had such a warm personality, she was always smiling when I saw her in the hallways, I will miss seeing her smile around school. But I will always remember her smile. It is such a strange feeling to realize that Nancy has passed on. Very hard to imagine. Nancy definitely continues to live in my memories.
Nancy was more than a colleague, she was a good Friend. My first summer here I needed support that was difficult to find as so many people were away. She didn’t hesitate to help out and it was during this time that she became not just my colleague but my friend. We had the chance to share ideas, laugh and joke with each other, and have debates about teaching. Some of my favorite memories are from that summer.
I find it difficult to speak of Nancy in the past, when she was so very present in my life. Memories of her come tumbling in faster than I can sift through them. Some make me cry. Some make me laugh. Some make me wonder at her wisdom and patience.
Nancy introduced me to the Camino de Santiago, which she was passionate about—and she wanted me to know some of her favorite stretches. During October break one year, we walked those favorite stretches together, she revisiting, me discovering, the pull of the Camino.
Nancy and I also walked all over Warsaw on Sundays exploring the city. We happened on hidden monuments, beautiful parks, unexpected “swamps,” bird aviaries in unusual places, thousand year old trees and more. While nurturing our souls, we felt obliged to take care of our bodies as well---so we added ‘research’ on cafes with interesting menus to our Sunday outings.
Although it’s not something either of us were proud of—we seemed to have a twice a year contest to see who was going to hand in our report cards the very latest—- just under the deadline. (It was always a close contest.)
We rode home from school together most days. We brainstormed how to teach something, shared idle gossip, swapped kids stores--- and vowed we would leave earlier the next day. Nancy was my sounding board and I was hers. We told each other our joys and our problems, seeking advice or comfort—and we had confidence that our private musings would remain private.
We did a lot of wordsmithing together. As I finish entering my memories here, I want to ask her, “Hey. What do you think? Is this ok?
It’s hard to believe that Nancy is in different and I believe better world.
I still see her smile and hear her soft voice. When I started my adventure as a pre-k teacher Nancy was one of the teachers, friends who supported me with good words and school materials ideal for young children. It seemed like she had an answer for everything and she was so close to other people and their problems. She was a part of ASW and I can’t imagine ASW without her. She will be truly missed.
Dana LaQuay Butrym
I had the opportunity to get to know, admire, and respect Nancy over the past 12 years we’ve worked together at ASW. Nancy was a mentor to me as she was always willing to listen to my concerns or questions and offer her brillant ideas and sound advice. We not only taught third grade together, our classrooms were also reading buddies for several years. I loved this, because it meant Nancy and I would get together afterschool and plan those meetings, creating relationships for children to support one another, and in the meantime we would find ourselves visiting, too. Nancy loved teaching and serving others and we’d often find that this love would keep us at school past dinner time. I will never forget our laughter as we were making icing into the night for our children to make candy houses at the Winter Party. We were mixing and mixing and mixing and laughing at ourselves for our ambitious plans. I will also rememeber her fun ideas for celebrating others, for example, making hair scrunchies as a favor to hand out at Heidi’s baby shower. I feel blessed that for the past decade I have celebrated Thanksgiving with Nancy as she was a part of my Warsaw family. I will miss her great cooking. I will miss her stories. I will miss being able to pop downstairs to share a concern. I will miss her smile. I will miss her laugh. However, I will forever be grateful, for Nancy will always be with me, in my heart and memories.
Around this time last year, Nancy wrote me an email asking me how I was doing with a tough family situation involving my grandmother. It was stressful and sad, I replied and Nancy said, “As someone who also had a grandmother who played a special role in my own life, I know that what you are doing -- hard as it is -- is a tribute to your love for her and her for you.”
And today, that’s what we’re doing here for Nancy, isn’t it? Today we share our words, memories and love in a tribute to the one and only Nancy Dickinson.
My first experiences with ASW included Nancy. She was a part of my Skype interviews before I accepted a job here. Little did I know how lucky I would be to teach in the classroom right next door to hers. She was an amazingly thorough team leader and, to a teacher new to international teaching, Nancy seemed like an encyclopedia of information. She had worked at ASW and lived in Warsaw long enough to know just about everything about everything.
When I first started working at ASW in 2012, Nancy had the difficult task of not only leading the first grade team, but also guiding and supporting the two new teachers who were joining her in first grade. She handled both challenges with ease and grace. Having been faced with the challenge of helping two new team-members orient themselves this year makes me appreciate Nancy’s efforts all the more. She made it seem easy.
Nancy’s worked tirelessly to ensure her students had the best possible experience at school.
At the beginning of every school year, she would remind her team of teachers about a little something that she would share with her students’ parents. With a smile and a gleam in her eyes she would say, “I work the late-shift at school. You won't see me get here very early, but you can count on finding me here after the school day is finished. Remember, I work the late-shift.” As a fellow “late-shift” worker, I can confirm that she did indeed devote several hours everyday, every week to working in her classroom. I have no doubt she was putting in extra hours before I had the pleasure of working alongside her. Nancy worked hard to make sure she was well-prepared to teach her class. Her late-shift tendencies helped me too: If I had a question after school, and I often had many, I knew Nancy was there to answer or help me think of where I could go for help.
I’ll always remember Nancy’s generosity.
Last December, Bree, Taylor, Marilyn and I visited Nancy in her apartment here in Warsaw before she flew to Montana to seek treatment and to be with her sister. We sat together in her living room, chatting, laughing and updating each other on what had happened in our time apart. It was what turned out to be our last team meeting. When it was time to say goodbye, Nancy insisted on sharing some of her cookbooks, coats, paintings and scarves with us. And, of course, we took them. Nancy’s generosity shone through again. I still have her cookbook - The Spanish Kitchen - it’s marked with some of her favorite recipes. I’ll treasure it dearly. But more valuable than this, are the wonderful memories that will live on in my heart and all of our hearts.
We should strive everyday to be as generous and thoughtful as Nancy was. And sometimes that's going to mean spending extra time on a task. Or sharing our time and treasures with those around us.
Greetings from Maine, where Nancy lived for many years before moving to Poland. It is perhaps easier to share grief and at the same time to celebrate the life of our beloved friend Nancy Dickinson in a gathering, a community of people whose lives are connected through having known and loved this lovely person. We are fortunate to be able to do that today.
Nancy moved from Maine 12 to 14 years ago, and although I haven’t seen her for any length of time for a couple of years, I have certainly been in touch in many ways. As I look back over the 35 or so years of our friendship, and begin to write this I’m discovering more and more ways that our lives intertwined and ways she enriched and clarified mine. And I would guess that most of you have experienced some of her many gifts. Friends and colleagues appreciated her laughter, sparkling eyes, grounding conversation, sense of humor, intelligent thinking and intuitive insight, love of adventure, joy in singing, and deeply settled spiritual presence. Her abiding love for her family, her confidence that life was moving in a positive direction and her grand determination inspired all of us.
She was a participant in many different communities throughout her life. And a common denominator of these communities was children; her constant love for her own precious daughter, and her work with the many children she taught over the years: learning with them, playing with them, laughing, carefully guiding them, always listening, listening, and noting where they were, both intellectually and emotionally, and finding ways she could help them. The kids were each individuals, and yet she helped them form groups of children who could look out for each other and work together.
One of the several ways our lives intersected was that I worked as an ed tech with some students in her classroom in a small school in western Maine for several years. I saw first hand the care and precision with which she taught. She had such passion and patience for supporting each child, for tending to their specific needs and skills. There are so many children, now successful adults, who are indebted to her for their being able to read and process, and for being able to calculate and think independently. For those children who had less support at home, they are indebted for having been nourished and given some stability and compassion during at least part of their day. Parents knew that she was helping their children learn skills and, more importantly, ways of being with other children and adults. At that school, long after the school day ended, I would go down to her room to chat, and she would be finessing a lesson plan, figuring out how to teach a particular skill, or developing a game or learning center to entice and excite the kids to become active learners. And I know that’s how she worked in all settings, from Moorestown Friends School in New Jersey, to Livermore Elementary in Maine, to the American School of Warsaw and other schools.
Nancy was also a painter of larger-than-life pictures. She took classes and reveled in putting brush to paper and in expressing herself. Nancy was a traveller and appreciator of adventure, from local jaunts to the challenges of the Camino and beyond. Nancy was a supporter of peace and justice. She moved beyond the confines of small self-centered thinking. Nancy was a singer of powerful songs and was a member of the Quaker group in Farmington. Before we settled into silent worship at each Meeting for Worship, we would sing a number of songs, and Nancy sang with gusto and much appreciation for the words and melodies. She had favorites and I know she carried these in her heart as she went about her daily life. And she also carried that stillness inside her even as it carried her through life.
I think it might be fitting for each of us, in memory of our dear Nancy, to choose a song and sing it with gusto, or take a walk, swinging our arms and breathing in the air, or paint a picture with vibrant colors, or take action to right a wrong, or sit in stillness and go within, or make a delicious dish and savor the hearty or delicate flavors, or choose any activity that enlivens us, perhaps connects us with others, and takes us beyond our normal way of living, helping us recognize that spark, that joy, that adventurous spirit, that zest for life that was and is at Nancy’s core. And maybe continue doing just one simple thing like that, on a regular basis, so that it becomes a habit, a nourishing part of living, of enjoying, of remembering Nancy.