Nancy Harmon Bargmann was a teacher.
That states more than her former occupation. As Ms. Harmon, she brought her entire self to the work, every school day with few exceptions, for 37 years at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She was also Nancy, Mom, Mrs. Bargmann, Aunt Nancy, and later, Nee…but always a teacher.
No one taught writing better than Ms. Harmon. She would not mind telling you this. Yearbooks, school newspapers, literary magazines, and other creations her students produced could account for at least a small forest. Some of their pieces were too good not to share at home, so we were treated to particularly brilliant or humorous essays and short stories, along with her accounts of the various accomplishments and antics of one “kid-in-my-class” or another. There is no counting the number of students who benefitted from her help with college essays and letters of recommendation. Once, Nancy received a letter of appreciation from the Skidmore College Director of Admissions for an exceptionally elucidating letter. Other letters over the years came from grateful parents, and more are from students expressing how she inspired their career path, pushed them to learn more about the world and about themselves, was the teacher who made a difference.
Our local librarian remembers Nancy as “The Teacher.” In her retirement, she took part in the Midland Park library’s book group, where she was intent on parsing the novels as well as regaling the group with childcare stories of Ruby and Violet, her “after-day-care” charges and neighbors. To the girls, she was Nee. If you had an hour to spare, you could ask “How are the girls?”
Nancy’s original girls, Caitlin and Kara, are her star pupils and lifelong beneficiaries of mid-sentence grammar corrections, sometimes to their chagrin but always to their benefit. Nancy enrolled them in dance classes, enjoyed taking them to concerts and plays (especially Shakespeare at Boscobel), and initiated countless excursions to museums and historic sites. Most toddlers would be a fine arts museum guard’s nightmare, but Cait and Kara knew how to “see with their eyes, not with their hands” thanks to Nancy.
She was the sports fan in our house. Nobody could beat Nancy’s brackets in March, but if they broke, she could endlessly argue and defend the rationales for her picks. We can still hear her yelling at the set from across the house.
Nancy was drawn to laughter and it to her. She was merciless; once she got you going she wouldn’t let up until you were running out of breath. When she was anywhere with her sister, Anne, bystanders should be braced for a maelstrom of hysterical laughter. This often revolved around situations and/or characters that they experienced on one of their overseas trips or their many overnight bus tours to Chicago, Mackinaw Island, Savannah or you-name-it.
While Nancy had come to travel more often in retirement, her greatest enjoyment remained the home and gardens in Midland Park that she created with Jeb. “Jeb, you know what would look nice over there….” would turn into a weekend’s project.
The walls of Nancy’s home were her gallery, and she was a serious curator. There was a seasonal or whimsical rotation. “Do you notice anything different?” was your invitation to observe and appreciate new objets (acquired on travels with Anne, museum shops, or craft fairs) or the re-arrangements she had implemented. It was the same with the yard. Plants loved Nancy as much as she loved them; they all grew for her or got ‘edited’ from the landscape. She planned for something to bloom in each season, integrated with a ‘critical mass’ of garden sculptures and structures, for a sublime backyard experience complete with fire pit and s’mores.
The mere mention of a get-together and Nancy would be making a list of potential appetizers, dishes, and desserts; memorably her Mom’s (Gram’s) specialty of kielbasa and sauerkraut. What she did with brownies, infiltrating the batter with candy bars, should be registered as a Controlled Substance. Recipes? They were taken as suggestions; her repertoire of favorites is not completely reproducible.
Nancy was a pure force of nature in every sense. If she saw that you needed help she would wash over you like a warm and loving tide, whether you asked for it or not. To experience Nancy’s selfless help was to feel safe – that things would be alright. When Nancy loved you, you stayed loved.
The world changed on Tuesday, February 2, at 3:14pm when COVID-charged pneumonia took Nancy from us. She leaves behind her husband, Jeb, of 44 years; her daughters Caitlin and Kara; her sister Anne and Anne’s husband Stash Augustyn. Anne and Stash’s children: Heather and her husband Jerry Soovagian and Sean Augustyn and his wife Lisa, and their daughter Madison. Nancy also leaves Jeb’s 2 brothers and 5 sisters and their spouses; her nieces and nephews Ben, Rachel, Brian, Natalie, Samantha, Carly, and James; her dear friends and neighbors. So much love, so little time.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Nancy Harmon Bargmann, please visit our floral store.