Juanita B. Nicholson

A special education teacher in Baltimore City schools, she also was a member of the city Planning Commission.

December 02, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Juanita B. Nicholson, a retired Baltimore public school educator who later was a member of the Baltimore City Planning Commission, died Thursday of a heart attack at her Pikesville home. She was 83.

Juanita Brown, a great-great-granddaughter of slaves, was born into a Cowpens, S.C., farm family.

She attended a one-room school and, after graduating from Cowpens High School, attended what was then the North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham, now North Carolina Central University.

"Education was very important to her father, and he wanted his children to attend college," said a daughter, LaVerne Nicholson-Sykes of Baltimore.

She left college during World War II and moved to Baltimore. She went to work for the Social Security Administration, which at that time was headquartered in the Candler Building in downtown Baltimore.

Mrs. Nicholson met and married Roland Nicholson Sr., a returning World War II veteran, in 1947.

"She said she'd marry him if he promised she could return to college and finish her degree," Mrs. Nicholson-Sykes said.

The couple later settled on Wheeler Avenue in the city's Ashburton neighborhood, where Mrs. Nicholson raised her four children.

She returned to college and earned a bachelor's degree in education from Morgan State University in 1956 and did postgraduate studies at the Johns Hopkins University.

Mrs. Nicholson, a special education teacher whose career spanned 23 years, taught at the old Gwynns Falls Junior High School, Venable High School, Southern High School and Greenspring Middle School, from which she retired in 1985.

"She was very dedicated and devoted to her job, and the children just loved her," said Elizabeth U. Walker, a retired Greenspring Middle mathematics teacher. "Her classroom was bright and cheerful. It was a happy room."

Mrs. Walker praised her longtime friend's "patience and diligence" in working with students.

"This happened because she was a lovable, genuine and a truly happy person. She was always smiling and had such a warm personality," she said.

"She approached her students from the perspective that every student should be encouraged to work hard and be given a chance to realize the highest level of his or her potential," said a son, Roland Nicholson Jr. of New York City.

"Former basketball star Marvin Webster credited my mother with working with him and encouraging him so much that he was able to attend Morgan State University and ultimately play in the NBA," he said.

Shirley Barber, a retired Greenspring Middle Spanish teacher, is both an old friend and colleague.

"Juanita was a wonderful, caring person, and this was because of the type of children she taught," Mrs. Barber said. "She had to be both a loving mother and strict, and students and parents just revered her."

Mrs. Barber said that wherever Mrs. Nicholson went, former students would come up and speak to her.

"She was very easygoing and had a great sense of humor," Mrs. Barber said. "She also loved politics and was very connected and involved in the city."

In 1989, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke appointed her to the Baltimore City Planning Commission.

Mrs. Nicholson was an active member of Metropolitan United Methodist Church, where she volunteered. She was also a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Mrs. Nicholson often talked of the inequities of the segregated South that she had grown up in.

"She was so thrilled at the prospect of Barack Obama being elected president of the United States that she stayed up well into the evening to witness the historic event of the first African-American being elected to the highest office in the land," Mr. Nicholson said.

Her husband, who had been a co-owner of Nicholson Bros.' Dry Cleaners and Nicholson's Alterations Center, died in 1990.

Services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at her church, 1121 W. Lanvale St.

Also surviving are another son, Howard P. Nicholson of Baltimore; another daughter, Karen Nicholson-Smith of Baltimore; a brother, Marcellus Brown of Jersey City, N.J.; three sisters, Jessie Mae Brown of Atlanta, Alonia Alston and Elise Fitzpatrick, both of Washington; 10 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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