Sylvia Grace (Nikkel) Menninga, 88, died peacefully in her sleep at home on Feb. 10, 2023, after suffering the debilitating impacts of Parkinson’s disease over the past three years. Born on Nov. 11, 1934 on a farm outside Lynnville, Iowa, the eighth of 10 children, she married her high school sweetheart and life partner, Gysbert (Gy) Menninga in 1955. She attended nursing school at Blodgett Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They started their family in El Paso, Texas, where Gy served in the U.S. Army. After living in Michigan and New Jersey, they settled in Highland Park, Illinois to raise their four children. A registered nurse, she was a supervisor at Home Health Care North (Chicago), director of nursing at Abbott House (Highland Park), as well as The Grove School (Lake Forest). She was an active member of Highland Park Presbyterian Church, where she helped run the Erie Summer Project, sang in the choir, and taught Sunday school.
They retired together to Oak Park, to be near, and help raise, grandchildren. She immediately became a volunteer in her community and a busy member of First United Church of Oak Park. She was a tutor and librarian (Cluster Tutoring, now Learning Edge), co-coordinated the CROP Hunger Walk for many years, co-founded and co-facilitated the Oak Park chapter of PFLAG, was active at the Oak Park YMCA, played piano for the seniors at Mills Park Tower, and could be seen selling homemade bread at Farmers Market to raise money for one of her causes, among many other activities. She was a strong social advocate for progressive causes, including prison reform, housing, hunger, racial and gender equity, and LGBTQ rights. She and Gy were recognized for their community service with the Ulyssean Award from the Senior Citizens Center of OP-RF, and the Bruce Scott Courage and Justice Award recognizing LGBTQ activism.
A music lover, she played both piano and organ, and her lovely soprano was a joy to hear. A prolific baker, she enjoyed gardening and bird-watching, and traveled the world.
Sylvia is survived by her husband, Gysbert; her children, Beth (Chris Leroux), Bert (Francisco Ballesteros), Nick (Nancy Fong), and Charles; her grandchildren, Alizarin, Thalo and Haskell Menninga, Isabelle (Mauss Jones) Leroux-Jones, and Owen Boone; her brothers, Bruce (Joyce) Nikkel and Nelson (Norma) Nikkel; her lifelong friend, Jan (Jim) Monsma; many nieces and nephews and in-laws; and dear friends.
She made the world a better, brighter and more caring place.
In lieu of flowers, donations should be sent to Pine Avenue Church Food Pantry, Pine Avenue United Church, 1015 N. Pine Avenue, Chicago, IL 60651.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 6, 2023, at First United Church of Oak Park, 848 Lake St., Oak Park, IL 60301.