Published in Austin American-Statesman on Jan. 5, 2019 Nancy Lee Sinnott 1925 - 2018
Nancy Lee (Chelberg) On December 30, 2019, Nancy Sinnott passed away peacefully at the "ripe old age" of 93. She was the beloved and longest-living matriarch of the entire family. She was a quick-witted, independent thinker; a champion of the underdog; a foe of the selfish; a friend to children, dogs, and strangers; and a proud yellow dog Democrat. She fiercely loved her family. Nancy was born at home to John Frederick Chelberg and Colette (Sebold) Chelberg in Alliance, Ohio, on December 15, 1925. She was the fourth of five children. Although she didn't brag about it, Nancy was a thirteenth generation American.
Her mother's ancestors arrived in the Catholic colony of Maryland in 1633 aboard the ships The Arc and The Dove, commissioned by Lord Baltimore of England. Nancy was a direct descendent of Meshach Browning, whom the state of Maryland calls its "early-American frontier legend." Browning's book Forty-Four Years the Life of a Hunter about his exploits in the Maryland wilderness is still in print today. His hunting rifle is displayed in the Smithsonian Institution.
Her father, the eldest of eleven children, emigrated from Mariestad, Sweden. At Ellis Island, his name was changed from Kjellberg to Chelberg. During the depths of the Depression, when Nancy was six years old her mother became gravely ill and unable to care for her younger children. The three youngest traveled alone by train over the mountains to their grandparents' house in Cumberland, Maryland, where each was assigned to live with one of her mother's sisters. Nancy went to live with her aunt Maggie, uncle Harry, and cousin Bob in Washington DC.
After her mother died two years later, Nancy became a permanent resident at Aunt Maggie's. She grew up in the 1930s and 1940s, and she vividly remembered the day of her childhood when she rolled Easter eggs on the White House lawn during FDR's presidency. Nancy also was a talented vocalist who dreamed of becoming a big band singer, but she was too shy to pursue it. During World War II, she supported the war effort by writing poetry and letters full of news from home to her many friends serving overseas, including her brother Jack, who served on the Battleship Texas.
At sixteen, she started working as a secretary at the Federal Reserve Board. She graduated from Roosevelt High School (1943) and was the editor of her school newspaper.
In 1951 she met Frank Sinnott, a handsome salesman from New York City, on a blind date. As she reported, he asked her out every weekend so she couldn't date anyone else. He proposed almost immediately and they were married in April 1952. Like most young couples at the time, they bought a house in the new booming suburbs and soon welcomed their first daughter Pam in 1953. Frank's work as an area director, vice-president, and national sales manager at Bell & Howell required the family to relocate. They moved to Pittsburgh (where daughters Pat and Paula were born), Detroit, Chicago, and Dallas.
Nancy stayed at home with the children and was their anchor. She painted, wallpapered, sewed curtains, and refinished furniture to transform each new place they lived into a home. But Nancy wasn't one to rest on her laurels. She enrolled in an art class in Pittsburgh and soon discovered her natural artistic talents. First, she started sculpting in clay. Then, when the family moved to Chicago, she met a friend who introduced her to woodcarving. She completed her first masterpiece from a donated stump of black walnut with a borrowed mallet and two chisels while the kids were safely at school.
When the family moved to Dallas in the early '70s, both Nancy and Frank learned to paint in oils. One of Nancy's paintings won first prize at the juried Texas State Fair in Dallas. She learned how to bronze-cast sculpture at SMU. Nancy also studied woodcarving under master sculptor Ludwig Kieninger. When she first inquired about lessons, Ludwig told her she might find the conversation in the all-male class a bit offensive. Nancy replied that there was nothing she hadn't heard before, and joined the group.
She instilled in her girls the conviction that women should be treated equally. After her youngest daughter graduated from high school, Nancy got her real estate license. She worked for Ebby Halliday, and later both she and Frank worked as realtors for Henry S. Miller in Dallas. Nancy and Frank also had the opportunity to travel. Besides the usual family vacations to various spots across the U.S., the two of them traveled several times to Europe and to North Africa. Their favorite place was Ireland.
After Frank's untimely death from cancer in 1989, Nancy began to think about retirement. In 1995 she moved to Austin to be closer to two of her daughters and their families. She felt at home in the hills. She was a founding member of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, where she made many friends and volunteered in the office. She also exhibited her artwork through the Diocese of Austin Fine Arts Council at St. Edward's University and at Emmaus Catholic Church.
In 2009 Nancy moved into her daughter Pat's home. She joined the Lake Travis Library memoir and book clubs, began to write her memoirs, and learned to paint with acrylics. She was curious and feisty until the end.
Nancy is survived by her three daughters: Pam Ballard (Shannon) of Austin; Pat Sinnott (Robert Salgo) of Austin; and Paula Scissom (Jim) of Summerville, SC; her two adored grandchildren: Paul and Maura Salgo; numerous nieces and nephews; and a host of wonderful friends.
She was preceded in death by her husband Frank Sinnott; brothers, Jack and Roger Chelberg; sisters, Jane Wider and Gloria Durr; nephew, Mike Chelberg; and niece, Cynthia Onstatt.
The family sends our heartfelt thanks to the caregivers at Legacy Oaks in Oak Hill for their amazing love and care during Nancy's last months.
In lieu of flowers, please send memorials to the Central Texas Food Bank.
Visitation will be Sunday, January 6, 2-4pm at Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home in Lakeway.