Obituary – Nancy Niebuhr

Nancy Niebuhr
MIDDLEBURY — Nancy M. Niebuhr, a craftswoman who specialized in elaborate embroidery of dresses for girls, passed away Tuesday, March 7, in Middlebury, where she had lived the past 11 years. She was 89 and lived in the Residence at Otter Creek.
Mrs. Niebuhr’s practice of decorative sewing belongs to a tradition known as “smocking,” which dates back centuries to the medieval era. Practitioners like Mrs. Niebuhr typically work with light fabrics, such as cotton; they gather the material at the dresses’ cuffs, chest and neck, stitching to produce a richly colorful effect.
As she became increasingly skilled, Mrs. Niebuhr joined a national organization for smockers whose conventions she would attend to learn more about the craft and to socialize with friends she made through the meetings. Throughout her life, Mrs. Niebuhr was known for a happy demeanor, a gentle sense of humor and a friendly interest in others, which won her many friends.
Nancy Mullican Niebuhr was born June 17, 1927, the youngest of three daughters of N. Spencer Mullican and Harriett Ross Mullican in Walnut Cove, N.C. She attended schools in nearby Winston-Salem. In 1943, she enrolled in the Women’s College at the University of North Carolina (now, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro); she graduated four years later with a bachelor’s degree in voice. Shortly thereafter, she moved to New York City, where she continued her musical studies, sang with local opera companies and hosted a radio program.
She also met her future husband, the Rev. Richard R. Niebuhr, an ordained Congregationalist minister then working toward his doctorate at Yale University. The couple wed October 14, 1950. After her husband served a brief pastorate in Cornwall, Conn., Mrs. Niebuhr moved with him, first to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where he taught two years at Vassar College, and then to Cambridge, Mass., in 1956, where he taught theology at Harvard University’s Divinity School, until his retirement in 1999. After a year in Cambridge, the couple moved to the adjacent town of Arlington, where they would live for half a century.
Mrs. Niebuhr did not continue a professional career in music, but she enjoyed singing, accompanying herself afternoons on her piano, showing a fondness for hymns and spirituals.
With her husband, Mrs. Niebuhr traveled widely, living abroad with him when he taught or did academic research in Heidelberg, Germany; Cambridge, U.K.; and Kyoto, Japan. For several years, the two spent summers in Colorado Springs, Colo., and near Dubois, Wyo., where Professor Niebuhr taught summer school at religiously-affiliated institutions.
The couple moved to Middlebury in 2006, after Professor Niebuhr sustained a moderate stroke, which limited his mobility. The Niebuhrs first lived on South Street, then moved to the Residence at Otter Creek (then known as the Lodge at Otter Creek).
Mrs. Niebuhr died nine days after her husband. Survivors include a daughter, Sarah Niebuhr (Lynn Coale), of Weybridge; a son, Gustav Niebuhr (Margaret Usdansky), of Skaneateles, N.Y.; and four grandchildren, Katherine Jennings (Lance Jennings), Emily Lisa Coale (Eric Shaeffer), Christopher Niebuhr and Jonathan Niebuhr.
A Memorial service will be held Saturday, April 22, 2017 at 11:30 a.m. at the Residence at Otter Creek in the Founder Room.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Addison County Home Health and Hospice at P.O. Box 754, Middlebury, VT 05753.◊

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