Wednesday, January 26, 2011

ANNOUNCEMENT: Nancy Kathleen Seyden 1947-2011


Nancy Kathleen Seyden


Nancy Kathleen Seyden died on January 22, at the age of 63 at Sutter Davis Hospital following respiratory failure. She was born to Walter and Anne Seyden on July 21, 1947 in San Francisco and grew up with her little sister Phyllis in Pleasant Hill, where their parents had settled after the Second World War. Nancy was twelve years old when she was diagnosed with a Guillian-Barré neuromuscular condition following a polio vaccine.  The illness terminated Nancy’s dream of becoming a ballet dancer and forever changed the life of her family.

Nancy spent her formative years in an iron lung at the county hospital in Martinez, California.  She arrived on the UC Davis campus in 1967 as a freshman after some trepidation from officials at the University. This was understandable considering that Nancy appeared in a large power wheelchair with ventilator machines.  Because the campus was not prepared to deal with the needs of disabled students, Nancy was housed in a room on the first floor of the Student Health Center, where medical staff could keep an eye on her.

In the face of formidable obstacles, both physical and social, Nancy was determined to succeed and graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in 1972.  She went on to earn a Master’s degree in Human Development in 1975. Shortly thereafter, Joel Bryan, a renowned activist in the Independent Living movement, recruited her to the UC Davis Services to Handicapped Students (later called the Disability Resource Center) that was developed under his leadership. Joel became her lifelong mentor and friend.  Nancy made significant contributions to the campus and through her counseling and support, encouraged and empowered hundreds of students with disabilities throughout the years.  Nancy left the Disability Resource Center in 1993 after it shifted its focus from student empowerment to compliance with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) regulations.  Despite this disappointment, Nancy never lost her passion to help students with disabilities attain their academic and personal goals.
Shortly after leaving the Disability Resource Center, Nancy joined a nationally funded Research and Training Center in Neuromuscular Diseases at the UC Davis Medical School. She worked there for several grant periods, focusing on quality of life issues and rehabilitation and gave occasional lectures to students at the Medical School. Her main effort was “focus group” interviews of the life cycles of persons with neuromuscular conditions. Ultimately, she collaborated with the California Department of Rehabilitation on employment issues for people with disabilities.

Nancy was a tireless advocate for persons with disabilities and was involved in myriad organizations at the University and in the community:  Nancy was a founding member of the Board of Directors for the Resources for Independent Living Center in Sacramento (serves Yolo County); she developed training videos and lectures for the Yolo In-Home Support Services program and the UC Davis Medical School; she was a member of the committees for ADA Compliance and Human Relations, City of Davis; she served as president of the Yolano Chapter of Californians For Disability Rights; she was a founding member of the UC Davis Forum on Disability Issues; she was chair of the Yolo In-Home-Supportive Services and Public Authority Advisory Committee; she was the founding vice-president for the statewide California In-Home Support Services Consumer Alliance (CICA).

Despite her full-time work schedule and committee involvement, Nancy still found time to travel extensively throughout the western United States, from New Mexico to Canada. Her long road trips were legendary and her orange (and later white) van was seen in the strangest places, exploring the small and big wonders of the world. She had a deep interest of all living creatures and in nature and could never give up reaching that rare overview or that elusive bird, out there - far away. She also found the time to attend the annual Sacramento Jazz Jubilee where Dixieland and Zydeco were her all-time favorites.

It may be easy to overlook the fact that Nancy’s life was a constant struggle to stay aloft. She acutely felt that she was being financially penalized for being disabled, for working, for being married, and for retiring. She saw the root of the problem in the fact that in order to obtain state support to fill her care needs, she and her husband were forced to live well below the poverty line. She struggled for years to right this injustice and to improve the state In-Home Support Services. She did not live to see the latest onslaught on these essential services for people who are in the most need for support.

Nancy retired in 2008 after over 30 years with the University, determined fully to devote her life to her pets, garden, reading, and her husband of many years. She rediscovered the knitting passion of her youth and gained many new friends through her interests and volunteer work, which included Yolo Reads, and Yolo Basin Foundation. Nancy was an education docent for Yolo Basin Foundation and volunteered countless hours teaching visiting school kids.

Nancy left a lasting impression on the people she met and interacted with.  She and her husband were an inspiring presence in the Davis community for more than two decades.  Nancy’s loss will leave a void in the lives of all who knew her and appreciated her boundless energy, eternal optimism, patience and kindness and especially, her wicked sense of humor.  She will be deeply missed by her family, friends, colleagues, and caregivers, many of whom are scattered around the country but always kept in touch. 

Donations in Nancy’s memory can be made to the Yolo Basin Foundation, P.O. Box 943, Davis, CA 95617. The funds will be used to improve accessibility at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, which Nancy loved so much.