Born in Pontiac, Michigan on February 20, 1934, Barbara Nissen was raised by Frank and Ethel Ridley in the small, quiet towns outside Detroit. Barbara graduated from Walled Lake High School. She was voted The Most Well-Mannered by her classmates, and she met the love of her life, Paul “Jim” Nissen.
Jim and Barbara were married nearly 65 years ago on December 20, 1952, just 7 months after Barb graduated from high school. The Wedding was held while Jim was on leave from the Marines. Barb and Jim went on to raise three sons Kevin, Steve, and Brian.
It’s probably important to note that Barbara was the youngest of five in her family and was doted on by her four older siblings. From childhood through high school, Barbara completely embraced every aspect of being female. No one recalls Barbara ever going through anything remotely like a tomboy stage. She was, in short, “all-girl” in manner and interest. Given her background, raising three boys presented Barbara with something of a learning curve. Through the 1960’s and 70’s, she attended scores of football, basketball, baseball games and track meets in weather foul and fair. She spent a lifetime trying to comprehend complicated rules and complex sports strategies, with only moderate success. On weekends she sorted through mounds of grimy athletic gear. And with every jock strap or sweaty sock she tossed into the washer, Barbara thanked God for her three strong and healthy boys, but said a silent prayer for the little girl that she was certain would someday occupy the household.
Though Barbara was unable to offer much to her boys’ sports talents, she gave them things of far greater and lasting value. Barbara provided a home full of love and laughter. She was her sons’ comfort when they were ill; their counsel when they were lost; their encouragement when they struggled. Barbara was their role model in matters of marriage, family duty, and the strength and grace of womanhood. Barbara never passed on an opportunity to teach her sons the value of kindness and respect for others. “Learn to smile, and smile often”, she told them. “Your friendliness will always bring out the best in others.”
Barbara lived the very life she professed. She worked as a secretary for a regional sales office at Ford Motor Company as well as for a small importer/exporter in Southfield, Michigan. After she and Jim moved to Mesa in 1976, Barbara started working for Mesa Public Schools where she served as the principal’s secretary at Powell and Kino Junior Highs. At every job, Barbara distinguished herself as not only a competent and efficient administrative assistant, but also a cheerful, positive and humorous member of the team.
In the early 90’s with the boys raised and married, Barbara and Jim moved to Fountain of the Sun in East Mesa. Barb and Jim soon had 10 grandchildren – 7 grandsons and, yes, 3 beautiful granddaughters. All of the grandchildren basked in the same warmth, humor, and kindness with which their fathers had been raised. Barb also cherished a warm and affectionate relationship with her three daughters in law – Tracy, Leilani, and Maria.
In Fountain of the Sun, Barb and Jim rediscovered a life together. Barb learned to play golf, and Jim was always at the ready to help Barb with her many Fountain of the Sun committee duties. Their calendar was filled with events and parties and travel.
Barb moved into Silver Creek Inn Memory Care in August of 2013. Just as she had been her entire life, Barb was known at her new home for her infectious laughter. Even in her final days, she would often wake and greet her caregiver with a warm smile.
Barbara Nissen passed away on November 23, 2017, her greatest love and her best friend, Jim, at her side. She will be missed, but always remembered for a life well-lived.