I first met Nicky in rather unusual circumstances. We were sitting on the search committee that led to the selection of Brother Dietrich Reinhart as president of Saint John’s University. We were in one of our first sessions, and we’d not yet had the chance to meet. But I hoped to remedy that during the break.
The news in the hall preempted the introduction for which I had hoped. While we deliberated, the bombs of the first Gulf War had begun to rain on Baghdad. Suddenly there was no time for idle chit-chat.
In time Nicky and I became fast friends, and in the course of nearly 30 years we collaborated on a host of projects. But it was not long before I discovered that Saint John’s was only one piece of her rich and full life.
Nicky was born in St. Paul, into a family involved in the life of the city. Her mother, Louise, had been a regent at Saint John’s, so Nicky needed little introduction to Collegeville. But that was scarcely the only item on her resumé.
In a career filled with civic involvement, Nicky stood out for her long association with the Minnesota Orchestra, whose board she chaired. She also sat on the board of her alma mater, Vassar, and at a host of other organizations.
When Nicky completed her term as regent, she moved onto the Board of Overseers of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library. Thus began an association that continued until her passing. She was a passionate advocate for HMML’s work, and she also became a patron of The Saint John’s Bible.
For both projects she was an ardent fund-raiser, and I will always recall our first event to promote the Bible. At the end of the speeches, Nicky’s husband Tom sidled over and grabbed my arm.
“Nicky and I want to make a significant gift,” he said. “Announce it tonight. Announce it now!”
Tom was impetuous to a fault — the polar opposite of Nicky, who was deliberate to a fault. As thrilled as I was, I knew to temper my enthusiasm.
“That’s great!” I said. “But have you talked about this with Nicky? Does she know about this?”
“Well, no,” he replied. “But she’ll do it.”
“Go over and talk about it with her, and then we’ll see about an announcement.”
From across the room I witnessed a spirited conversation. To his credit, Tom was right about Nicky. They did make a generous gift, but not that night.
To everyone’s surprise, Nicky’s health went into a sudden downward spiral, and she slipped away in 2017. I preached at her funeral, and it was a challenge to do justice to one who had done so much.
Still, Nicky’s work at Saint John’s was not quite complete. She had already helped to fund the endowment for the executive director at HMML, and in her estate she left a very sizeable legacy for HMML. To the University she left funding to establish the Nicky Benz Carpenter Scholarship. She was over-the-top generous, but she surprised no one.
That brings me back to Tom’s comment many years earlier. “She’ll do it — she just doesn’t know it yet.” His was a great insight and a great tribute to a remarkable woman.