From Tragedy to Triumph: The Life Story of the Hazel (Hill) & Alex Nicely Family

Grace TeSelle, niece
with editing, [clarifications], & introduction by
Larry Pearce, cousin

Hazel Irene (Hill) Nicely

The author, Grace (Hill) TeSelle (b. 1928), is a dear cousin and fellow family historian whose autobiography and other compositions are posted at this site. Just type in and click on her name in the “search” box to the right. Most of the names found in those writings and this fascinating biography of her aunt, Hazel Irene (Hill) Nicely (1896-1932), can be located in our Hill Family Tree Vitals sections. Most amateur genealogists and writers believe that the most interesting and relevant stories can be found right in our own clan’s backyard, so to speak. Thus, we “Tell the tales of the tribe,” as one historian put it. As for my first awareness of a relative named Hazel Hill Nicely, I remember my late father, Ralph Hill Pearce (1917-2002), when asked who she was, would simply say, “She died birthing twin girls.” That didn’t mean much to me years ago before I got into this hobby. But now to realize that Hazel’s great sacrifice in bringing not one but two new lives into this world cost her her very earthly being is an inspiration, eventually producing at least ten off-spring and much happiness to those families.  Looking back nearly a century and a half before Cousin Hazel’s time, I can’t help but think also of the thousands of descendants of the couple who are believed to be our first Hill Scots-Irish immigrants to this country, William and Sarah Dixon Hill. Little did Hazel know that she and Alex would provide an important link in our Hill family chain. For the ongoing Hill family tree, see the off-spring of Hazel and Alex (VI-5 below Joseph Marshall Hill). Here is what Cousin Grace has to say about just part of that rich heritage, the Nicely family of Western Pennsylvania and their descendants:

Twin girls of Hazel &
Alex Nicely (1932)

I vaguely remember Aunt Hazel. I was almost four when she died giving birth to twin girls, Jean and Jane. I recall activities surrounding her death, including seeing my dad [Harold “Harry” Hill (1891-1945)] walking up the road from his parents’ house. We could see that he was crying. I had never seen him cry before. Following the usual custom, Aunt Hazel was in a casket for viewing in the parlor of grandpa and grandma Joseph and Alice Hill. I do not remember the funeral, but I know that she was buried in the Allegheny County Memorial Park Cemetery where most of the Hill family are buried.

Four generations: Susan Moon holding Nettie Miller Stark; Myra Hill Miller; and Alice Moon Hill (1924)

My daughter Ginny [Virginia Lowe] and I visited the cemetery when we traveled to Pennsylvania back in 2015. We found the burial spots of Joseph and Alice, Hazel and Alex, and my father and mother, Harry and Hulda Fisher Hill. The trip also included my 70th high school reunion,my college sorority’s 75th anniversary, and “catch up” visits with friends, many of whom are gone now: Barb and Dave Rosenbaum; cousins David and Robin McGuire; Donna, David’s mother, and his sister Robin; as well as cousins Alice (Miller) and Emery Drescher, Jim Stark  and his daughter and husband Cheryl and Joe Criswell.

Joseph & Alice Hill’s 45th wedding anniversary (1931)
(Alex & Hazel Nicely top row –
2nd & 3rd from right)

Another memory of Hazel and Alex took place at the 45th wedding anniversary celebration of our grandparents in 1831, Alice and Joe Hill mentioned earlier. I treasure the professional photograph of all the children and grandchildren of Alice and Joe. I am in that photo, sitting on a chair in front of my mother. I recall how unhappy I was when I was asked to sit on the scratchy grass. Apparently, I threw a fit and they found a chair for me. I was only three years old, so I think it must have been in summer of 1931. Alex and Hazel are standing in the back row. Also, it may have been at that time that a bunch of us crowded around Alex’s new car in the area in front of the barn. It was a car with a rumble seat. This was the first and only time I was ever up close to that style of car, which was quite popular in that time period.

Hazel’s tragic death the following year, 1932, was a real blow to the whole family. I sense she was always a special person. I remember hearing that, even when she was still single. She had helped care for her Grandmother Susan Moon, who had died the year before. I vaguely remember her. She would have been my great-grandmother. There is a photo of her sitting on the porch.

Susan Moon with hair let down (c.1930)

I think there was a blanket over her legs, and I seem to recall that it was said that she was unable to walk. So Hazel began a period of service. From pictures, I believe that daughter Jane grew up resembling Hazel very closely. Jane also became a nurse [see her obituary below] while her sister Jean had a more convoluted beginning, marrying and divorcing at an early age. But still, Jean had lots of talent and personality and later married again. Jane and Jean each had interesting children, and I was blessed to know them as adults. Jean and her husband, Dick Walbrecker, as well as some of their children lived in Reston, Virginia, not far from Falls Church where my late husband Virgil and I resided.

Father Alex Nicely with
his twin girls (c.1934)

Much earlier, but after the unexpected death of Hazel, Alex and the babies moved in with his brother Harry and wife Margaret Nicely. Margaret took care of Jane and Jean from birth until they were grown and gone on to careers and marriages. Harry and Margaret had a large two-story house. Alex and Harry were the Nicely Brothers, Plumbers. They had a completely finished and painted basement with room for laundry and, the part that fascinated me, storage shelves where extra, bought-in-advance household supplies were stored, and probably even a second refrigerator. The house was open to the lower level with a patio-like area that was adjacent to the kitchen and first story rooms. It was my first glimpse of a family that had enough money to have living spaces, well-furnished and well-planned so that life could to run very smoothly.

I remember riding with my dad, Harry, in his truck to visit the two babies soon after they were born. The nursery was set-up on the second floor. The first thing that happened, as I approached the area, was that Margaret washed my hands. And then I had my first glance at those little ones, so tiny and young.

As the girls grew, I was encouraged to go play with them. They had two tree swings, trikes, and many outdoor play things and spaces. Sometimes I stayed for lunch – exquisitely cut peanut butter/applesauce sandwich squares, fruits, and ice cream. Anytime I ate with them, there was ice cream. A real treat for me because we did not yet have electricity, and of course, no refrigerator for anything like ice cream. Grandparents Joe and Alice had one though, and every day before suppertime I would walk over to their house and bring a pail of milk for our meal. I still have that pail, but now I keep some artificial flowers in it.

Jane and Jean came to play at our house too, and they were fascinated with our playhouse in the woods, made up of logs for beds and tree stumps for tables, acorn caps for saucers, and whatever else we could use to make a pretend household.

As the girls grew older, Margaret took my older sisters and I and the twins to the very large swimming pool in North Park to enjoy the water. That continued for years. My older sisters Mary and Irene eventually grew into other responsibilities, but Margaret trusted me for quite a few years to be with the twins. She made sure that I timed our leaving the water to be dressed and waiting for her picking us up as scheduled.

When Jane and Jean advanced to grade school and high school, and made other friends, I too was moving on to other activities and other friends. Sadly, we no longer spent time together. When I was a senior at Grove City College, I went home and brought one or both of them back to the College for a weekend, to encourage them to consider attending there. They, however, chose other futures.

I cannot remember the year, but one summer my sister, Irene and I were invited to go with Alex and the girls to a cottage on Lake Erie for a week or so. I think the Nicelys went there every year, and perhaps it was a time that Margaret Nicely just needed a break from her routine. It was my first trip to Western Pennsylvania’s closest “shore,” as they call it. That may have also been the first time I was aware of being allergic to the sun. My arms and chest broke out in very uncomfortable hives. Years later, in the 1950s or 60s, a dermatologist gave me some relief with a sun cream that gave me more extended time in the sun. As much as I loved to be in the water, I had to always have a cover nearby to avoid the itchy results made by the sun.

As long as I can remember, Uncle Alex would stop to visit our family, both with and without the girls. My Dad prevailed on Alex to start bringing the girls to church and Sunday School. Margaret was Catholic, but I’m not sure if she and Harry attended her services very often. Cross Roads Presbyterian Church, about a mile and half away from our farm, was always important to the Hill family, especially to my Dad.

When we finally got electricity and were able to have a pump, a well was drilled and Alex and Harry installed the fixtures in the space that had been planned for a real bathroom. We all appreciated that big change in our lives.

We all looked up to Alex, a rock solid man, quiet and comforting to be around. Each of us three girls, asked him to give us away at our weddings. It may have been that Alex came around because he enjoyed spending time with Mother after Daddy died. Much later, after I was married and living in Virginia, Mother seemed to indicate that she may have considered marrying Alex. I assured her, not knowing exactly what was meant by our conversation, that she should do what she wanted to do – that it would be fine with us. But she never mentioned it again. I believe it would have been a very good thing for both of them as both Jean and Jane were married by then and Alex lived alone, as did Mother.

Jean Nicely Walbrecker

My sister Irene (1924-2006) married Glenn Coss in 1946. He had been in the Navy during WWII and became employed by a Pittsburgh firm that manufactured printing machines. At some point Glenn decided quit that job to become a plumber and worked with Alex and Harry to learn the trade, and he took over their business and equipment when they retired to start his own company.  Irene left her job with Richardson Engineering in Pittsburgh to help Glenn with the office work. After Glenn had a stroke and died, Irene was left to sell all the plumbing equipment which had been lodged in Mother’s large garage. The space had started as a chicken house that Woodie Wilson, my sister Mary’s husband, had remodeled for his garage to repair cars.

Jane & Dick Lent

I was so sorry, years later, when I learned that Alex had died [1967], and I was in Virginia, unable to attend his funeral. Later, I had further contact with Jean and one daughter after Virgil had retired and started framing pictures. Later, sometime in the early 1990s, Jean had a stroke but seemed to be recovering. However, she relapsed and died before we moved to Florida in late 1992. Jane and her husband, Dick Lent, had moved to Michigan and Jane passed in 2016. As far as I know, none of the Hill cousins have maintained contact with the descendants of Aunt Hazel and Uncle Alex. Perhaps with this writing and posting, we’ll learn of Jane and Jean’s extended families and be able to share our memories. [end of Grace’s biography of Hazel and Alex]

Jane Hazel Lent,
daughter of
Hazel & Alex Nicely

Jane Hazel Lent (1932-2016) obituary from the Stone Funeral Home, Petoskey, MI:

Jane Hazel Nicely Lent died Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, a few days after incurring a stroke. Jane was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Jan. 19. 1932. Her parents were Alex and Hazel Nicely. She had a twin sister, Jean. Jane’s mother died in childbirth and the twins were raised in Gibsonia Pa., by her father and Harry Nicely, her uncle, and Harry’s wife, Margaret, whom Jane called Mother.

Jane attended Mars High School and obtained an RN degree from Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh in 1953. She was pursuing a BSN at the University of Pittsburgh when she met Dick Lent at a Pitt/Penn State football game. Jane and Dick married in 1955 just as Dick was entering service in the U S. Air Force. Jane followed Dick from base to base during his three years in the Air Force and at each stop she obtained work as a nurse in the local hospitals. She returned to Gibsonia in 1957 when Dick’s Air Force commitment was completed. Once again, she followed Dick as he moved from office to office in his vocation. Including the moves in the Air Force, she moved 12 times.

The final move before retirement was to Lake Forest, Ill. Jane took a job as school nurse at Lake Forest High School and enjoyed interacting with the students. She was picked to accompany the high school choral group (the Forresters) as a chaperone on two summer education/singing trips in Europe. Jane and Dick retired to Harbor Springs (L’Arbre Croche) in 1985. Jane became active in community affairs. She assisted in diabetes education programs at Northern Michigan Hospital. She was president of Crooked Tree Arts Council. She was one of the original volunteer naturalists in an educational outreach program of Little Traverse Conservancy to local schools. She volunteered at The Manna Project where she stocked shelves for many years. She served as an Elder and as Clerk of Session at the First Presbyterian Church in Harbor Springs.

For the last several years, her principal volunteer activities have been in gardening of the columbarium area at the First Presbyterian Church of Harbor Springs and working as a volunteer in the Ambulatory Post Op area at McLaren Northern Michigan. She loved working with the nurses and techs and admiring their caregiving service. She loved her fellow University Club members and would return after a meeting to tell her husband how much she enjoyed being with such an intelligent and informed group of women. Jane’s hobbies were reading and crossword puzzles. She wore out two crossword puzzle dictionaries. A “too cute for words” comment was often her evaluation of a very tricky New York Times Sunday puzzle.

Jane was preceded in death by her twin sister, Jean Walbrecker, and two nieces, Marie and Amy. She is survived by her husband of 61 years, Richard Allen Lent; and by her son, Richard Alex Lent; and her daughter, Ann Kathleen Lent. She is also survived by her granddaughter, Emma Jean Breslend; two nieces, Dianne Walbrecker and Laura Robic; and several grand-nieces and nephews.

Last revised 1/30/21

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