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Nancy P. Seiberling — 1917-2015

Nancy Seiberling

Nancy Seiberling left this life in the early morning hours of January 12, 2015 at Honey Creek Cottage in Swisher, Iowa, after years of struggle with Alzheimer's disease. Her youngest daughter, Angela, was with her in her last hours. For a tribute from her daughter, Grace, please click here.

Before retiring from public life, Nancy was a no-nonsense spokesperson for environmental and social concerns, an organizer who brought the best out of people, and drew them together to work toward a better community. In the college town of Iowa City, where the elm trees that once gave shade to the street were now dying in the 1960s, Nancy Seiberling, working along side Gretchen Harshbarger and Jim Maynard, advanced the vision that trees and shrubs should be an integral part of the city planning, starting Project GREEN (Grow to Reach Environmental Excellence Now). In the coming years ornamental trees and shrubs were planted with the help of hundreds of people Nancy touched, with the help dollars offered by community leaders and townspeople infected by Nancy's enthusiasm. That vision of beautifying and community-building played an important part in making Iowa City what it is today, a vibrant town where aesthetics play a pivotal role in citizens' lives.

Nancy with mother, 1917

Nancy with Mother, 1917

Born May 6th 1917 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, daughter of Rebecca and Alton Jackson, Nancy soon moved with her family to Winchester, Massachusetts, where Nancy and sisters, Becca and Dorothy, spent their formative years. In the mid-30s the family was to move to Wellesley so that Becca and Nancy could attend Wellesley College while living at home. (Dorothy, "DJ", went to Colby.) A Wellesley art professor sparked Nancy's interest in art history, blazing the way for the path she would take in life. A year after graduating in 1939, Nancy took a job at the Toledo Museum in art education, there meeting Frank Seiberling Jr., the Supervisor of Education for the museum. The two were married in 1941. While Frank served in the Army and later was finishing his PhD Thesis from the University of Chicago, Nancy remained in Toledo and bore two children, Grace and Franklin. Son, Christopher, was born in 1946 while the family was in transition to a country home outside Columbus, as Frank had been hired as a Professor of Art History at Ohio State University. Angela, the youngest, was born in Columbus. The family was to stay in Ohio until 1959 when they moved to Iowa City.


Grace, Nancy and Franklin in Toledo

Grace, Nancy and Franklin in Toledo

A family home was to be built in the countryside, overlooking the Coralville Reservoir, north of Iowa City—a home that was to be known as Fairhill, a center for cultural events, as well as family gatherings. When a dance troupe visited the University of Iowa, more often than not a gathering would be held for them at Fairhill; area social organizations held receptions there, and there were musical performances. Between hosting events, community organizing, cultivating perhaps the most exquisite garden in Johnson County, and managing family business, Nancy's days were full, and she worked tirelessly, never seeming tired or overwhelmed. In addition to Project GREEN, Nancy was also a founding member of the Johnson County Heritage Trust ( Now the Bur Oak Land Trust ), formed to protect land of significant environmental value from development, and to encourage responsible land management.

Her life did not slow down until after her husband, Frank, died in 1990, and she moved to a small house on the west edge of Iowa City on a hill above a bend in the Iowa River. There she lived for almost two decades before placement in Honey Creek Cottage near Swisher, Iowa, in March of 2010.

spacer Attributed to Jacopo VignaliAbraham Entertaining the Three Angels
ca. 1620—Oil on canvas, 45 1/4 x 57 1/4 in.
Gift of Nancy Seiberling to the Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Nancy gave generously to Wellesley College in recognition of the importance that education in the arts has been played in her life and will continue to play in the lives of Wellesley students.

Abraham Entertaining the Three Angels


In the spring of 1997 Chris Seiberling contacted Kate Klaus, project leader for Heritage Trees of Iowa City, with a plan to commemorate Nancy's 80th birthday by planting an oak grove, as a living legacy to her life work. The size of the project seemed daunting at first, but as Kate put it, "Nancy has taught me to think, 'Why not?'" After the project was cleared with city planners, Kate and community activist Gert MacQueen arranged for and granite boulder to be moved into Hickory Hill Park and designed a bronze plaque to be attached. Nancy's children ordered some trees and community leaders pulled together to order more. On May 11th, 1997 a ceremony was held at Hickory Hill Park, with community governmental leaders, environmental activists, family and friends in attendance, all to celebrate the life and works of a woman who had changed to face of Iowa City and Johnson County as a whole.



Nancy c. 1919
Nancy as a toddler
  Nancy c. 1921
Nancy as a child

Becca, Rags and Nancy c.1923
Sister Becca and Nancy around 1923

Nancy and Frank
Nancy and Frank

Nancy and her two sisters, Becca and DJ
Nancy and her two sisters, Becca and DJ

Nancy in her garden at Fairhill
Nancy among her day lilies

Frank and Nancy's 40th Anniversary
40th wedding anniversary

Top: Grace, Franklin, Angela—Middle: Nancy and Frank—Bottom: grandson Daniel and Chris

between rocks
Nancy spent many days exploring natural habitats.

garden  garden
Nancy had cultivated a garden unsurpassed in Johnson County for its beauty and variety.

A family gathering at Fairhill
Family gathering at Fairhill

Nancy - Hospice Walk

Nancy at a Walk for Dignity Hospice Walk

Nancy on her 90th birthday

Nancy on her 90th birthday

grand children

Chris, Rocket, Dan, and Griffin

Nate, Ecuador

Nate at San Bernardo, Ecuador

Nancy left two grand children and two great children.


Angela & Nancy

Angela with Nancy in May, 2007


KCRG Channel 9 Report—A Celebration of the Life of Nancy Seiberling Thursday, May 28, 2015

Iowa City Public Library video program, Tell Me Your Story with Nancy Seiberling

Links to other Nancy & Frank Seiberling Jr. family pages

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Please consider a contribution to Project GREEN or the Bur Oak Land Trust