When Nicky Wilson set her sights on something, she achieved it. Her boldness and determination turned her into an adventurous woman. She leaned into her passions and wore many hats throughout her life. Known for her direct, witty banter, Nicky loved a lively discussion. You knew she was in the room because her signature gold bracelets would jangle as her hands flourished elegantly as she spoke.
Nicky was born, Nicolina Marie Annette Fazio on October 7,1934 in West Grove, Pennsylvania. Her parents, Ernest Fazio and Giulietta Marie Lisetta IaLongo, Italian Catholics, raised Nicky and her three younger siblings - Petronilla "Pat" Fazio Petroll, Lorenzo "Larry" Fazio, and Christina "Chris" Fazio Powell - in the tightly knit community of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Growing up, Nicky was an energetic child who liked to keep her hands busy. She learned to play the piano and her siblings would listen to her play "Blue Moon". Throughout high school, Nicky sang and danced in the Longwood Gardens' annual summer musical pageant. Her sisters kept up the tradition.
Nicky picked up the craft of sewing from her father. Ernest was a well-respected men's custom clothing tailor employed by Strawbridge and Clothier in Philadelphia and Wilmington. She always kept a pair of his tailoring shears in her kit, even after she left home. Ernest and Julie instilled a strong work ethic in the Fazio kids and Nicky exercised it. In 1952, when Nicky graduated from Kennett Consolidated High School, she set off on her first big adventure. She left the Fazio home on Mill Road to become a nurse in the big city of Philadelphia. "That took a lot of courage!", Pat recalled. "I was still in high school, but she gave me the inspiration to save my money and go to West Chester University and get my teaching degree."
The three years Nicky spent at Hahnemann Hospital School of Nursing were some of her most formative. She made lifelong friends and settled naturally into her independence. Flipping through her 1955 graduating class yearbook, her poise and striking features stand out. Throughout the pages, accolades and candid photos show a fun-loving, hard working young woman who enjoyed being outdoors and staying active. Her classmates-turned-friends wrote that she was a clever, loyal, and patient friend with a talent for sewing original handiwork. Must have run in the family!
Shortly after graduating from Hahnemann, Nicky met Robert "Bob" Wilson through mutual friends. Bob was a handsome young man, two years her senior, who had recently gotten out of the Navy after fighting in the Korean War. They dated for a year and half then got married at St. Patrick Church in Kennett Square on August 2, 1958. For the first couple years of their marriage, the newlyweds lived in Audubon, New Jersey with Bob's mother, Rebecca Larney. Bob built Nicky a home in Bellmawr, New Jersey where they raised their three kids - Brian Robert Wilson, Jill C.W. Morgan, and Michael Malcomb Wilson.
For the next several years, Nicky did it all. To the chagrin of her cheeky kids, she worked as the substitute school nurse for the Bellmawr school system. "She kept an eye on us," Brian chuckled. "We couldn't get away with anything." Nicky loved her kids so much. She wanted them to be happy, healthy, and active. She stayed fit by swimming at the Haddon Glen's Swim Club, and eventually, Brian, Jill, and Michael followed suit. Nicky and Bob raised a trio of swimmers. Good ones to boot. When she drove the kids to a swim meet, one of them would be her co-pilot, map in hand. "Whenever we'd start panicking after a wrong turn, Mom would look at us and say, 'You can always turn back and figure out the way. We're not lost'", Jill reflected. "We always got to the meet on time." She was a busy woman but always made time to invest in her career. "To get away from us crazy kids and stay sane", Brian quipped, " she also worked one night a week at Hahnemann University Hospital ER."
Community was important to Nicky. She made time to celebrate important occasions with family and friends and maintained a thriving social life. It was through her Bellmawr community that she translated her love for sewing into a new hobby, knitting. At first, knitting was a creative outlet - an opportunity to learn a new skill. But the longer she knit the more interested she became in how the yarn was made, where it was sourced, and how to make her own.
So when the kids were all teenagers, Nicky and Bob moved the family from Bellmawr to a farm in South Jersey. Soon after, Nicky accepted a position at Salem County Memorial Hospital. It was always Nicky's dream to have a farm. There, she and Bob raised chickens and sheep. They also established a small wool processing business, operated out of the farm, called Wilson Wool Works. Still nurturing friendships from Hahnemann and Bellmawr, Nicky also developed strong ties with women in the area who were fellow farmers, yarn enthusiasts, and culture junkees. Many evenings, she'd sit out in the front yard, spinning wool shorn from her own flock. "One summer, Nicky came to visit us at our house on the shore. I had to help her get her big spinning wheel out of the back of her car," Chris reminisced. "Even at the beach, she always had to have her hands busy."
When Bob passed away in 1998 from a heart attack, she turned to her loved ones and community for support. She maintained normalcy through nursing and farm-life, but her grief ran deep. She started attending Friends Meetings and found solace in the Quaker faith. The peace and comfort she found there restored her. In 2002, she retired from nursing, ready to start her next chapter.
In retirement, Nicky Wilson was a force to be reckoned with. She leaned hard into her passions. She relished meeting new people; sampling exotic cuisines; and immersing herself in foreign cultures. "Mom was worldly well before she traveled," Brian reflected. When Brian served in the Navy, Nicky never balked at the prospect of visiting Brian in whatever new city he, his wife Conchita, and two kids, Casey and Gavin, were stationed in. Jill, also shared the family travel bug and appreciation for good food and wine. So when Jill, her husband Tim, and son Christian started the tradition of having Sunday dinners with Nicky, she was overjoyed. Jill prepared everything from comforting American classics to bold-flavored Asian dishes that impressed Nicky every time.
Nicky transferred a lot of her fearlessness into her three grandkids. She instilled her passion for the arts and culture in them by regularly planning outings to museums and plays. She nurtured their love of literature and read tales of magic and adventure out loud to them often. She even drove them to the local pool to "release all that energy" when they'd come to the farm to visit.
When Nicky wasn't traveling and spending time with family, she was enjoying the life she built for herself in South Jersey. She was president of the local Fibre Guild; sold free-range eggs and artisanal cheeses at the local farmers market; and volunteered at Wheaton Village where she learned to hand-blow glass - evidenced by a gorgeous blue paperweight that still sits in her dining room. She regularly participated in and attended fairs, local events, and cultural outings with her friends. Her community knew they could rely on her support and friendship.
Nicky was incredibly health-conscious and made a point to take care of herself, but she had a few notable health battles. In her 50's she beat breast cancer, twice. She always said it was a positive attitude that helped her survive. However, as Nicky matured into her 80's, dementia set in and she started to slow down. During this difficult time, Michael moved to the farm and took loving care of her.
On May 18th, in isolation, Nicky was called back to God due to complications from COVID-19. She was 85 years old. Her family will be forever grateful to the staff at Inspira Medical Center in Vineland, New Jersey for coordinating a phone call with her, even though she was sedated, so they could tell her how much they loved her on Mother's Day.
Given the global pandemic, Nicky's family has postponed her memorial indefinitely and will notify friends and family of a future date when life gets back to normal. In lieu of flowers, you can make a donation to the Friends Village at Woodstown in her name.
Published in Courier Post from May 24 to May 25, 2020.