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Nan Elizabeth Townsend Degelman ’38

Nan Elizabeth Townsend Degelman ’38, January 19, 2003, in California. Nan attended Reed and the University of California, eventually earning a master’s degree in social work. Following graduation she moved to New York to live in Greenwich Village, where she was a social worker and explored an interest in photography. In Manhattan she met and married John Degelman, a ship’s radio operator and organizer for the National Maritime Union. Attracted by the promise of socialism, the couple joined the Communist Party. They moved to Boston in 1941, where they began raising a family, then moved in 1947 to Littleton, Massachusetts, where her husband began a career in medical-based electronics. In 1964, following the death of her husband, Nan moved with her three children to Manhattan, and earned a master’s degree in English as a second language from New York University. She taught ESL in San Francisco and attended to her interest in poetry and writing essays and memoirs. After retirement, she moved to Sierra County, where she lived with her companion, Merle Simmons, until his death. She then moved to Davis, participating in and advocating for the community’s social and political issues. She also worked to promote agricultural pollution control in the Sacramento basin, before ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, overcame her ability to live independently and required that she return to San Francisco. Observations from her youth of those left homeless by the Depression and oppressed by the General Strike of 1934 inspired her life’s work for peace and social justice—causes she supported with enthusiasm and grace. Survivors include her daughter, sons, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and sister.

Appeared in Reed magazine: May 2004

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