Catherine Cora Nief, Jan. 28, 1944 – Sept. 15, 2019
Cathy Nief of Burlington, Vt., passed away on Sept. 15 at the Ethan Allen Residence in Burlington. She was 75 and had suffered with Alzheimer’s Disease for several years. She was surrounded by her children and many friends and caregivers in her final days.
Born in Boston, she was raised in Needham, Mass., the daughter of Norman and Marie (nee Delaney) Alexander. A graduate of Regis College in Weston, Mass., she was on the staff of Harvard University press when she married Ron Nief in 1973.
With the birth of their first child Abigail in 1976, they moved to Middlebury, Vt. There they were joined by their second child, Alexander, in 1979.
Cathy had been a school librarian in Worcester, Mass., before moving to Vermont. She resumed her work with the Cornwall Vt. Elementary School and later helped to establish and direct the new and expanded children’s library at Mary Hogan Elementary School in Middlebury.
A noted baker, culinary expert and dynamic hostess, she was known for her extraordinary work in the kitchen and provided special desserts for Middlebury College entertaining for years. In 1988, responding to the encouragement of many in the community, she created The Vermont Country Kitchen, a specialty food shop and café in one of Middlebury’s oldest buildings, on Park St. in Middlebury. She brought imported cheeses, selected wines, fine cookware and specialty foods to Middlebury that are still recalled by townspeople, students and their families. She received national attention for the design of the shop and for many popular food and wine-themed events. The VCK was a popular eating place until its closing in 1997.
In 1999, Cathy moved to Burlington after her husband had assumed a new position in Wisconsin. She was an active member of the community, serving on the board of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and as president of the Burlington Klifa Club and participating in the activities of the American Association of University Women.
Cathy cherished her community of friends and neighbors from the Village at Northshore, where she lived for the rest of her life, at peace, on the shores of Lake Champlain. It was with the support of this community, and the dedicated caregivers from Home Instead that she was able to stay at Northshore until the final year of her life.
She is survived by daughter Abigail and husband Doug Van Hoewyk and grandchildren Toby, Olive and Ruben of Myrtle Beach, S.C.; son Alex and wife Melissa Nief-Johnson and grandchildren Cameron and Isla of Underhill, Vt.; and her former husband Ron of Madison, Wis., and many friends and caregivers.
Many friends recalled Cathy’s boundless generosity and spirit. Emory and Diana Fanning of Middlebury noted that “She was brilliant, vivacious, wickedly funny – and warm-hearted, empathetic, and loyal. She was always up for anything, and was tremendously fun to be with. I loved our picnics at the Vermont Symphony concerts in Middlebury – and what a fantastic fund-raising job she did to organize the whole town to make those concerts happen.”
Missy Stern, a graduate of Middlebury College who played a critical role in the development of the Vermont Country Kitchen, recalled Cathy’s appreciation of good food. A regular visitor, to Burlington, she noted that “one of our favorite things to do was order a ‘Camel’s Hump’ pizza from Cucina Antica in Shelburne, Vt. We would all devour the pizza and then play Bannanagrams! As the years went by she would ask us the rules over and over again, but she always came up with a fabulous array of words.”
Becky Theobald of Colorado, another Middlebury graduate who became a life-long family friend, said that “Cathy Nief expanded my concept of how one could be a hostess. Her cooking was fancy, but not fussy. She gathered a variety of people around her table and encouraged conversation and conviviality. She brought together people from disparate points of view, and she modeled how to avoid being intimidated by titles or reputations. The cookbook she gave me is worn and weathered, but I think of her and her warm kitchen and dining rooms every time I use it.”
Cathy’s friend and post-college roommate Ann Pioppi of Wellesley, Mass., recalled “yard/barn sales at the wonderful Newton, Mass., house. We would clean out our closets and sell everything including unwanted wedding gifts! The best part was serving mulled cider and selling the famous cheese balls. It was always a party...”
And Cathy’s devoted and long-time Burlington neighbor Marie Dussault wrote that “We bonded since we both shared a joy for cooking, entertaining and gardening. In the fall, when I would receive so many vegetables from my CSA, we would cook together. Cathy would come with recipes for soups, chowders and stews, sometimes 2 or 3 in one evening. Then we would have dinner for the week. Just a year ago I had a dessert and dancing party. Cathy came over, tried all my desserts (6 of them) and then proceeded to dance with friends on the deck until 10:30 that night. Loved seeing her having so much fun.”
A memorial celebration of her life is planned for October. Memorial gifts may be made to the Ethan Allen Residence, 1200 North Ave. in Burlington, VT 05408.