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My friend Scott Huffines’ mom, Jackie Nickel, passed away on Friday, August 17, 2007 at the age of 65 after a 6-year battle with cancer. All of us expect death as part of the birth-school-work-death cycle, but it always comes too soon. Jackie’s was too soon.
Jackie was the coolest friend’s mom I knew. She worked, for one thing, which was unlike other moms. And she worked hard, leaving behind several books and a writing leacy at the Essex Avenue paper. What I liked best about her was that she was truly interesting. You didn’t just make awkward, polite small talk with her, as you did with other parents. You had real conversations, because she was fun to talk to. She knew everything about Essex and most things about Baltimore and Maryland. At parties at Scott’s, I didn’t just say Hi and Bye, but would seek her out to talk about the Essex Cube or Precious the Skateboarding Dog or the proposed Essex Raceway or the inside dirt of local politicians. She was on top of everything and she was sharp. Just like a reporter. Just like a writer.
And Jackie treated everybody the same, regardless of who they were or what their title was. Whether she was talking to John Waters (as pictured below) or a local councilman, a next door neighbor or one of Scott’s weirdo friends (and there were many!), you were just people to Jackie.
I recall Scott telling me how happy Jackie was when, after yet another chemo treatment at the hospital and yet another room change, she was allowed to use her laptop. She hated being cut off from it. She wanted to write. I love that image of her in the hospital still trying to produce output, to generate ideas. That’s the image I’ll recall of Mary J. Nickel.
She wrote a lot in her lifetime. Thank God we have that left to stay with us, to carry on the conversation, to leave us with food for thought.
*** Other Thoughts ***
Here’s the death notice from the August 19, 2007 Baltimore Sun:
NICKEL , Jackie On August 17, 2007 Jackie Nickel; devoted mother of Scott Huffines and his fiancé Kristin, John Huffines and his wife Carolyn, Michael Nickel and his wife Christina; dear grandmother of Thomas Nickel.
A Private Cremation was held. The family will receive friends at the family owned Bruzdzinski Funeral Home P.A. 1407 Old Eastern Avenue, Essex at Route 702 (beltway exit 36) on Wednesday from 5 to 9 pm. A memorial service will be held at 8:30 pm. The public is invited to attend the interment of cremains in Oak Lawn Cemetery on Thursday at 11 am. In lieu of flowers memorials in her name to The Chesapeake Bay Foundation or Saint Jude Shrine will be appreciated.
*** HER BOOKS ***
In 2002, Chesapeake Publishing Co. (parent company of The Avenue News) published Jackie’s Memories of ‘Old’ Middle River: A Loving Look Back at the Town and its People, a 48-page history of Middle River from the late 1800s to post-World War II. The book, which was adapted and expanded from a series first published in The Avenue, evolved from Jackie’s interest in neighborhood revitalization. As a civic activist involved with a number of community organizations, she hoped to preserve the memories of a neighborhood undergoing change. Jackie wrote:
To head in the right direction, we have to look back and see where we’ve been successful in the past. I find so much pride in the people of Essex and Middle River. They have never forgotten their contributions to the nation in times of war and peace. We must pass this pride on to our ancestors and future generations of residents, especially those new to the community.
Baltimore County’s Office of Community Conservation supplemented the book’s printing and design costs with a grant of $2,000. According to the Essex-Middle-White Marsh Chamber of Commerce, copies of the book will be included as a welcoming gift to new residents of WaterView, compliments of Mark Building Co. Memories of ‘Old’ Middle River is carried by the Enoch Pratt Free Library and the Baltimore County Public Library and originally was available these select stores: Martin Aviation Museum on Wilson Point Rd., Squirrel’s Nest Antiques at Eastern Blvd. and Mace Ave., Wallace Engine Co., 1801 Eastern Blvd., Harrison Beauty Salon, Harrison Blvd., Fantasy Glass, Pottery Farm Station, Back River Neck Rd., and at Greetings and Readings. It’s also probably available at the Motion Picture Exhibition in Baltimore. Headley wrote: “Great job on the Middle River book! That’s the way books about neighborhoods should be.” That’s high praise coming from Robert Headley!
On April 16, 2007, Arcadia Publishing published Jackie’s defining work, Essex as part of its Images of America series.
Arcadia described the book as follows:
“Advertised in a 1909 sales brochure as “The Rising Suburb of the East,” Essex, Maryland, has seen its fate and fortune rise and fall and rise again. The town enjoyed its early reputation as a haven for city dwellers with picnic groves, hunting and fishing clubs, dance halls, and waterfront amusement parks. The boom continued with new jobs and prosperity until the 1950s, when a fire destroyed much of the town’s main street. Economic decay set in as a result of the loss of industry and an influx of low-income housing. Several attempts at redevelopment and legislation failed, resulting in the residents’ distrust of government intervention. Finally a county-backed Renaissance project was established in 2002, bringing Essex a new epithet: “The Hidden Gem of Baltimore County.”
Here’s Jackie’s Arcadia bio:
Jackie Nickel has documented stories about her hometown of Essex as a community newspaper editor, reporter, and freelance writer for almost 30 years. A civic activist, officer, and board member of several community organizations, she has forged a deep commitment to the town and a love for the people and places she writes about. Nickel believes that the retelling of Essex’s difficult past will serve to cement community pride and define its future.
*** CELEB MEMORIALS ***
Not many moms get their books picked by Baltimore film icon John Waters, but Jackie did, as evidenced by this piece in this Baltimore Sun from May 13, 2007 enitled “John Waters, Filmmaker: Five Things I Have To Have Now“:
4. Essex By Jackie Nickel ($19.99, The Ivy Bookshop, 6080 Falls Road): “Finally, a real bookshop in Baltimore! Here’s an amazing book about Essex. It has great pictures of the old movie theaters, like the Elektra, pictures of the Thunderbird Drive-In, my favorite hangout for 1950s juvenile delinquents.”
Essex is also home to the Bengies Drive-In, whose owner D. Edward Vogel posted the following farewell to the Baltimore Sun’s online “Guest Book for Jackie Nickel“:
You are as much a part of the history of this area as all that you included in your work. You are a good friend to me, and a true believer in the Bengies. Thank you for all your inspiration and insight. Now that you are among the stars, I will keep an eye out for you, please keep an eye on us. All My Love! D. Edward
D. also put up the following memorial to Jackie on the Bengies’ marquee:
*** BALTIMORE SUN OBIT ***
Here’s Frederick Rasmussen’s obit in the Baltimore Sun (August 21, 2007):
[Age 65] The author and former editor was a longtime advocate for Essex, its history and east-side land preservation
By Frederick N. Rasmussen
August 21, 2007
Mary Jacqueline “Jackie” Nickel, an eastern Baltimore County activist, author and former newspaper editor, died Friday of cancer at Manor Care Health Services in Rossville. The lifelong Essex resident was 65.
Born Mary Jacqueline Moore in Baltimore, she moved as a child with her family to Essex, where she spent the rest of her life.
In the 1990s, she had her name legally changed to Nickel, which had been the last name of her maternal grandfather, John H. “Hon” Nickel, who had owned the Gayety Theater, the famous East Baltimore Street burlesque house.
After graduating from Notre Dame Preparatory School in 1960, she earned a teaching certificate from the University of Maryland, College Park.
“She taught at Back River Elementary School and Our Lady of Mount Carmel parochial school,” said a son, Mike Nickel of Catonsville. In the 1970s, Ms. Nickel left teaching and went to work as a reporter for The Avenue News, an Essex weekly, and later was promoted to editor.
She left the paper in the mid-1990s and returned in 2000 when she began writing “Around the Avenue,” a weekly column on the editorial page.
“She was an Essex icon and an advocate for the community, environment and history,” said Jean A. Flanagan, who is the newspaper’s current managing editor, and who was given her first newspaper job there by Ms. Nickel.
“She wanted to preserve both the environment and our local history. She also wanted people in Essex to take pride in where they came from and for new people moving to the community to know where that pride came from,” Ms. Flanagan said.
“Her column was down-to-earth and she would say things that people only thought. She went after the bad guys and promoted the good guys,” she said. “She’d help people who called with complaints about barking dogs or kids running in the street. She’d tell them who to call.”
She added: “Her shoes will be very hard to fill.”
Carole L. Ledley, a longtime friend, recalled Ms. Nickel’s work in land preservation battles.
“She did pretty much the entire Back River Neck Peninsula and pretty much devoted the last 25 years of her life to land preservation,” she said. “She was particularly interested in rural legacy and was instrumental in reducing the number of houses on Turkey Point, where I live.”
Mrs. Ledley praised her as being “so knowledgeable” and a person who “wasn’t afraid to stand up” for what she thought was right.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do now. We’ve just lost the backbone of our community,” she said.
Ms. Nickel lived in a Rockaway Beach Avenue home that her grandfather Nickel acquired in 1916.
In 2002, Ms. Nickel published Memories of ‘Old’ Middle River: A Loving Look Back at the Town and its People. The photo-history chronicled the community that in the early 1900s, “before marketing consultants, marina studies and development incentives,” she wrote, was a waterfront destination for Baltimoreans fleeing the heat of the city for the cool waters of Middle River.
In addition to collecting memories from old-timers of life in Aero Acres and Mars Estates during World War II, for instance, she also used the book to call for the creation of the Middle River Historical District.
In a closing essay, she asked, how could World War II-era Middle River with its many extant buildings that were designed by such well-known architects as Albert Kahn and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, relate to “dramatic events in the history of our country.”
“The solution involves carefully identifying the most basic elements of wartime Middle River design. The curving streets and cul-de-sacs are still all in place. Many of the houses still have low gables, paired or picture windows, small porches and other original features,” she wrote.
This year, Arcadia Publishing published Essex, as part of its “Images of America” series. The book contains nearly 200 photographs, many from a personal collection she spent years acquiring, and others from local residents and historical societies.
“I’ve never in my life felt so appreciated for anything I’ve ever done,” she told The Sun, speaking of an April book signing, when at least a 100 people arrived at the Essex-Middle River Heritage Society.
“People standing in line meet each other, and, if they have any connection to Essex, they find a common thread of conversation. It’s brought a tremendous sense of family,” she said.
“Essex is going to miss her. She was an obsessive booster for Essex when no one else was,” filmmaker John Waters said yesterday. “I loved the Essex book. In fact, it’s one of my favorite books of the year.”
In response to a “Five Things I Have to Have Now” column published in The Sun in May, Mr. Waters said, “Here’s an amazing book on Essex. It has great pictures of the old movie theaters, like the Elektra, pictures of the Thunderbird Drive-In, my favorite hangout for 1950s juvenile delinquents.”
“She was so devoted to and selfless in her love to the people of Essex and preserving the Essex legacy – its land and its people,” her son said. “She cherished her readers so much. I cannot begin to imagine how strongly my mother’s absence from Essex and Baltimore County’s east side will be felt.”
She was a communicant of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church.
Her husband of 10 years, Roland Dimeler, died in 1997. An earlier marriage to Carroll Huffines ended in divorce.
A memorial service will be held at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Bruzdzinski Funeral Home, 1407 Old Eastern Ave.
Also surviving are two other sons, Scott Huffines and John Huffines, both of Essex; and a grandson.
*** EXAMINER OBIT ***
Here’s the Examiner’s obit (August 21, 2007):
Essex, Md. (Map, News) – The Essex activists needed 24,000 signatures to save the homes of 300 Essex residents. The task seemed daunting.
But it was Jackie Nickel’s calm, approachable manner that soothed even those homeowners affected by the condemnation legislation and persuaded more than 44,000 to sign the petition to defeat it.
It was that dedication to community that defined Nickel, 65, who died Friday after a six-year battle with cancer, friends and family said.
“With Jackie, it was always about Essex, it was always about Baltimore County, or it was always about her neighborhood,” said Brad Wallace, an Essex business owner whose home was saved when voters overturned Senate Bill 509 in 2000.
A longtime columnist for a local weekly, The Avenue News, Nickel’s enthusiasm for local politics extended beyond the pages — she was an active member of at least five civic associations, according to her three sons’ count.
Her book, “Essex: Images of America,” was released in April by Arcadia Publishing — more than 25 years after she decided to document the town’s colorful story from picnic groves and waterfront amusements to economic decay and back.
About 100 people attended a book signing, where it was Nickel’s turn to be interviewed.
She told an Associated Press reporter that fans in line shared Essex stories, the type of community spirit that County Councilman Joe Bartenfelder said Nickel relished.
“She took pride in her heritage, living in east Baltimore County and in the waterfront,” Bartenfelder said.
“I am proud to call her a friend and a supporter,” he said.
The public is invited to attend the interment at Oak Lawn Cemetery at 11 a.m. Thursday.
*** DUNDALK EAGLE TRIBUTE ***
And here’s Dundalk Eagle writer Marge Neal’s shout out to Jackie from her August 23, 2007 “Talk of the Town” column:
Our sister community to the north, Essex, lost a true friend, advocate and journalist Friday with the death of native daughter and longtime Avenue News columnist Jackie Nickel.
Even though I’ve read her words for what seems to be most of my adult life, I met Jackie in person only once, a couple of years ago at Dundalk’s Relay for Life.
It struck me as funny that she was just as excited to meet me as I was her, because she apparently read my work as avidly as I read hers.
But that behavior shouldn’t have surprised me, because it was obvious, through Jackie’s prolific writing, that she thrived on meeting people and cultivating friendships of many levels and intensities.
She stood up for her beloved community and fought against issues — like development — that she thought would tear the very fabric of her hometown.
Her voice may be silenced, but her message will be heard and her passion will be felt for many years to come.
In but a tiny gesture, I offer my condolences to her family members, many friends and colleagues.
*** AVENUE NEWS TRIBUTE ***
And finally, here’s a remembrance of Jackie from the paper she wrote for, both as an editor and freelance columnist, The Avenue News:
Community reeling from loss of staunch advocate
By Jean A. Flanagan
THE AVENUE NEWS STAFF
Jackie Nickel succumbed to complications from cancer treatment on Friday, Aug. 17, 2007. She was 65 years old.
It is impossible to put into words the impact Jackie had on her family, friends and the community in which she lived. At the very least, Jackie will be long remembered as a staunch supporter of preserving the natural environment and chronicling local history.
Her activities on behalf of the community included serving as past president and board member of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council, board member of the Essex-Middle River Renaissance Corporation, board member of the Back River Neck Peninsula Community Association, member of the Rockaway Beach Improvement Association and board member of the now defunct Essex Development Corporation and Essex Revitalization and Community Corporation.
She supported the formation of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area legislation and was its unrelenting watchdog on the lower Back River Neck peninsula. She was involved in the formation of the first Back River Neck Peninsula Community Plan and was on the committee in the process of updating it.
In 2000, she was instrumental of the defeat of the controversial SB-509, state legislation that would permit eminent domain for development in Baltimore County. She worked tirelessly behind the scenes, gathering signatures for the petition that brought the measure to the ballot.
Jackie also served as a liaison between the community and developers on many projects. Her goal was always to advocate for the least amount of adverse impact on the existing community and to protect the fragile Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, coastline and wetlands.
Elected officials on the state, local and federal level often requested Jackie’s counsel to gauge the climate in the community. She was a lightning rod for questions, concerns and opinions from the community. She attended every community input meeting she could, and often instigated them.
Jackie was also a popular local journalist, a profession she began in the 1970s, after raising a family and teaching elementary school. Jackie began working part-time at The Avenue News shortly after its debut in 1974. She eventually worked her way up to Editor, a position she held until 1995.
In 1995, she left The Avenue News to take the Editor’s position at The Essex Times. She remained there until 2000, when she returned to The Avenue News as a freelance reporter and columnist. Her weekly column, Around The Avenue, brought her both applause and distain.
In recent years, Jackie’s passion was the preservation of local history. Researching old newspaper reports, conducting hundreds of oral history interviews and copying thousands of historical photographs, Jackie contributed to or created three publications.
In 1999, the 90th Anniversary of Essex, Jackie contributed extensively to a publication called “A History of Essex.” The Essex Revitalization and Community Corporation published the book. In the preface, Jackie wrote, “In history there is pride and in Essex there is much history and so much of which to be proud.”
In 2002, Jackie self-published “The History Of Middle River: A loving look back at the town and it’s people.” She sold the books for $5 each, often donating the funds to local organizations serving the less fortunate. In the acknowledgements, she wrote, “For many years I waited for others to record our history. Just a few community-focused booklets grace our local library shelves and larger volumes simply skim the surface.
“The prospect of revitalizing Eastern Baltimore County sparked me into action – revitalization, after all, means new life, not wiping something out and starting over. Our proud older citizens want to save some of the past yet be part of the new plan.”
In 2006, she completed “Images of America – Essex” an Arcadia Publication, 130-page chronicle of more than 200 photographs and maps. It tells the story of the place, the community and the people that are Essex. It was her proudest accomplishment. She had begun a whirlwind of book-signings and history talks. Born and raised in Essex, she wanted her neighbors to feel the pride she felt about the origins of our community.
People brought her more stories and more photographs. A display of unknown photographs usually accompanied her book signings. “Do you remember who that is?” she would ask anyone who stopped to look. Her intention was to publish another book.
Jackie’s first priority and a constant source of pride were her three children. Her oldest son Scott Huffines, and his fiancé Kristen, lived nearby. Her middle son, John Huffines and his wife, Carolyn were very near and dear to her heart. Jackie’s youngest son, Michael Nickel and his wife, Christina were often her traveling companions, most recently visiting the mountains of West Virginia and the Jersey shore.
Jackie’s grandson, Thomas, was a constant source of pleasure for her. Ever mindful of the impact her mother had on her three children, Jackie was determined to be the best “Mom-Mom” she could be to Thomas. She was prepared, at the drop of a hat, to accept an invitation to baby-sit and looked forward to holiday gatherings with a special zeal.
Whether she was ferrying elderly neighbors to the polls on Election Day or coaxing native flowers to bloom in her yard, Jackie will always be remembered as a strong-willed, vocal advocate for the Essex community. She will be sorely missed.
*** SIGNS OF THE TIMES ***
Thanks to Mike Nickel and Scott Huffines for posting these pics.
THE BEAT GOES ON (Jackie News Updates)
The tributes and honors continue to amass for Jackie. This year Kevin McDonough, a student at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Elementary School, was selected as one of only 28winners in Fox 45’s “Champions of Courage” essay contest for an essay honoring Jackie Nickel. His essay was selected from more than 5,000 entries from 87 middle and high schools in Maryland. See full story: “Mt. Carmel student selected as Fox 45 ‘Champions of Courage’ essay winner.”
AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY HONORS JACKIE NICKEL
(Jackie News Update, May 2008)
The American Cancer Society’s signature event is its annual Relay for Life fundraising event, which “enables people to celebrate those celebrate those who have survived cancer, remember those we’ve lost, and fight back against a disease that touches too many lives.” The 2008 Relay For Life of Essex, which is being held May 9-10 at the CCBC-Essex Campus, is “dedicated to Jackie Nickel, who lost her battle with cancer last year.” The American Cancer Society even created a Jackie Nickel Honoree Page to pay homage to “this great woman and how she impacted the Essex community.”
The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life Honoree Page introduces Jackie as follows:
Each year, the Relay For Life of Essex honors someone in the community that has recently battled cancer. The honoree may be a survivor or may be someone who lost their battle too soon. The 2008 honoree is Ms. Jackie Nickel, longtime Essex resident, author and activist. We would like to take this time to celebrate Ms. Nickel’s life and acknowledge her courage in her fight against cancer.
To read the full tribute, see the “Jackie Nickel Honoree Page.”
It’s a great write-up and yet another testimonial to the life of Jackie, who continues to live on through the memories of her loved ones and to fight for just causes like the ACS’ Relay for Life, even from beyond the grave via her legacy.
MEMORIAL PLAQUE HONORS JACKIE NICKEL
(Jackie News Update, July 28, 2010)
This just in from the East County Times courtesy of Scott Huffines…
PLAQUE DEDICATED IN JACKIE NICKEL’S HONOR
(Jackie News Update, August 10, 2010)
This just in from Scott Huffines – another Jackie Nickel plaque update from the Avenue News.
Thomas Nickel, grandson of the late Avenue News columnist, editor and reporter Jackie Nickel, is pictured with a plaque in Jackie’s honor which was dedicated on what would have been Jackie’s 68th birthday on July 28. (Photo by Anna Renault)
Plaque dedicated in Jackie Nickel’s honor
By Anna Renault
The name Jackie Nickel still rings bells of fond memories, political fights, and controversial editorials for many ‘Avenue News’ readers and tugs at the hearts of family, friends, former co-workers, and neighbors.
Remembering Jackie Nickel is a daunting task. The woman was simply amazing. She was sweet, kind, and caring. Jackie loved helping others, researching history, as well as being a community activist. If she thought something was wrong, she set about trying to ensure it was corrected. In the case of community development, sometimes this meant stopping something from happening before harm was done.
On July 28, Jackie would have been 68 years young. Unfortunately she went to her heavenly reward three years ago. However, she is still fondly remembered by so many whose lives she touched. Many of those who remember, especially her Turkey Point/Rockaway Beach neighbors, attended a plaque dedication ceremony in Jackie’s honor on this anniversary of her birth.
“This is something we’ve wanted to do since we lost Jackie,” stated Kim Goodwin, President of the Rockaway Beach Improvement Association (RBIA). “She did so much for us, she deserves this and more.”
Many of the local residents agreed. Goodwin welcomed everyone to the ceremony and read a beautiful poem expressing the love and loss felt by those in attendance.
Denise Woatila, Secretary – RBIA, also spoke of Jackie’s impact on the community as well as on herself. As a relatively new Essex/Middle River resident, Woatila quickly learned much of the area’s history and the importance of having pride in one’s heritage as a result of her friendship with Jackie. She pointed out how much more she learned about her dear friend after reading an online blog by Tom Warner. She said, “Just Google Jackie Nickel and you’ll get a long list of sites telling you all about her.”
Kevin McDonough, local resident and high school student at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, also spoke of the impact Jackie Nickel had on his young life. He explained how he chose Jackie as the subject of a “Champion of Courage” essay he wrote due to her neighborliness, friendship, wisdom, and her love of history. Jackie’s influence on McDonough’s life has led to his willingness to be an active member of his community, taking pride in his community and environment. He credits her inspiration with encouraging him to always be willing to give back.
Jackie’s family, including her beloved grandson Thomas Nickel along with his parents Michael and Christina Nickel were in attendance along with Jackie’s oldest son, Scott Huffines and his partner, Kristen. Thomas did the honors of hanging the plaque onto the Rockaway Beach sign at the corner of Turkey Point Road and Rockaway Beach Road. It was noted that Kim Maigetter painted the plaque and her husband Brennan installed the hardware necessary to hang it.
Michael Nickel thanked all who attended and shared the family’s appreciation for the love and honor that is continuously expressed by so many for their mother, Jackie Nickel. They are grateful that her legacy continues to shine through those who continue to advocate for those things that Jackie held so dear – the community, the environment, and the pride in knowing one’s history.
For those who are new to the area and didn’t know Jackie, just ask around. You’ll hear lots of stories. Briefly, she was proud that her maternal grandfather owned the Gayety Theater in East Baltimore. She was a wife, mother of three, and grandmother of one. She was a teacher at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Back River Elementary School. She was editor to both ‘The Avenue News’ and ‘The Essex Times.’ In her semi-retirement she returned to The Avenue News as a weekly editorial columnist and freelance reporter. In 1999, she published “A History of Essex” to honor the 90th Anniversary of Essex. In 2002, with the help of Chesapeake Publishing (The Avenue News’ parent company) and a grant from Baltimore County’s Office of Community Conservation, Jackie published her book, “Memories of Old Middle River.” In April 2007, just a few months before her death, she published her dream book, “Essex,” a pictorial history of the area published by Arcadia Publishers as part of their ‘Images of America’ series. She was an environmentalist, a community leader and activist. Her shoes are too big to be filled!
Nickel for Your Memories (Scott Huffines’ blog posting site for his mom)
Guest Book for Jackie Nickel
“Champions of Courage” (Jackie Nickel Essay)
Jackie Nickel Honoree Page (American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life)
Plaque Dedicated in Jackie Nickel’s Honor (AvenueNews.com)