Altamease Nickson always began with the basics - taking measurements, cutting patterns, marking fabric with chalk. She sewed nearly everything for her four children. Jacqueline, Victor, Reba and Reginald could make it through the first few weeks of school without repeating an outfit.
After her husband died in 1964, Mrs. Nickson raised her children by herself. But her expectations never wavered.
“There was no way that we could play like we were sick or something and get out of school like a lot of kids do,” Victor said. “She wouldn’t hear it.”
She was, after all, a teacher.
Mrs. Nickson died of congestive heart failure on Dec. 6, at the age of 95. She spent most of her life in Tampa. During her career, she went from teaching home economics to teaching parents how to help their children succeed.
As a Head Start coordinator and parent involvement specialist for the Hillsborough County school district, Mrs. Nickson worked with parents who had few resources. One of her projects was teaching mothers to sew.
By then, all four of her children were nearly out of college and launching their own careers.
Reba was married, but she tagged along as her mom’s assistant. Those first few sewing classes were comical. They took place in community centers or elementary schools with night classes.
Most of the students had no idea what they were doing. After finishing a piece, they’d model, and sometimes, Reba would wonder, “why are there extra arm holes?”
But those women kept at it. Mrs. Nickson got 10 to 15 sewing machines donated each year and gave them to her students. They left knowing how to make clothes for their own children. Several started careers in alterations. Others took the crafting skills she taught them and set up shops in flea markets.
“She always tried to influence them to either graduate from high school, go to junior college, a trade school or a four-year college,” Reginald said.
She made calls for them, helped them finish the paperwork and made sure there were no excuses. Mrs. Nickson retired in 1995, but she continued pushing her 12 grandchildren through school. She taught them to sew, too, Reba said, even if sometimes it was just Barbie clothes.
“She was always trying to teach somebody something.”
Senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Want to know more about Mrs. Nickson? Head over to Instagram and @werememberthem and see one way her family will remember her. Know someone who has recently died whom we should write about? Send suggestions to Kristen Hare at [email protected]