KNOX — The petite Nicolina Barber had an enormously supportive role in her family, as a cook, a quilter, and a caretaker.
Originally from Italy, Mrs. Barber’s first name equates to “little Nicole” in English. Her father immigrated to the United States in 1923 and began working at General Electric, where three generations of the Colucciello family, including Mrs. Barber, have now worked.
She died on Saturday, July 6, 2013. She was 98.
She was was born in Fontonarosa, Italy, the eldest daughter of Michael and Anna Maria (née DeSimone) Colucciello, on Dec. 3, 1914.
During her childhood in the southern Italian town near Naples, Mrs. Barber’s home had dirt floors. Her family kept livestock and gardens, and she helped take care of her two siblings.
Her father, who fought in World War I, immigrated for work and to avoid the corruption of Italian society, said Mrs. Barber’s son, Clifford Barber.
“I remember she told a story about a robber that came in the house, and they started throwing stones at him until a friend came over with a gun,” said Mr. Barber.
With her mother and siblings, Mrs. Barber came to the United States at the age of 14 and grew up in Rotterdam. She helped her mother raise five more siblings born in the new country as she worked at General Electric in Schenectady.
Mrs. Barber and Marshall D. Barber met square dancing and married in August 1947. They lived in Knox and had a loving marriage for 55 years, ending only with his death on Feb. 18, 2003.
The Barbers had a farm in Knox, where Mrs. Barber kept a vegetable garden and flower beds. Her son, Dennis Barber, learned how to raise beautiful flowers. He now lives on the family’s 300-acre property at Barbers’ Corners after taking care of his mother for three years before she moved to the Good Samaritan Nursing Home in Delmar.
“Full circle,” said Dennis Barber. “I grew up there, I moved down the road, built a house, sold my house, and moved back.”
Mrs. Barber made large meals for the help on the farm that included local high school boys who worked in the Barbers’s hayfields. She cooked spaghetti and renowned meatballs.
“We’re trying to find the recipe,” said Clifford Barber of his mother’s meatballs.
Everything Mrs. Barber made in the kitchen was from scratch, using ingredients from her garden. Her canned beets and chili sauce won prizes at the Altamont Fair, where she entered her afghans and foods in contests.
Dennis Barber said his mother had a taste for greens, like dandelions, and would sometimes cook them for herself when her husband ate meat and potatoes.
Dennis Barber his mother was just under 5 feet tall, adding that his father stood at 6 feet, 3 inches.
Towards the end of her 44 years at G.E., Mrs. Barber tested small, electric motors, which, her son said could reach over 20 horsepower.
“She had to push them down a conveyer. She would have to kick the leads on the motors and so forth, and test them so that the right voltage could go through them, so they didn’t short out, they didn’t fail,” Mr. Barber said.
She used the same determination at home.
As Mrs. Barber had difficulty walking in later years, she found new ways to navigate her garden by using a laundry basket with a rope to pull and a stick to push her tools or vegetables.
“Nothing stopped her to do anything…She just never had a license until she was 65,” said Dennis Barber.
Mrs. Barber began driving to go to Rotterdam to visit her mother, who died in 2000 a few months before turning 107.
After her retirement in 1979, Mrs. Barber became more active in the Knox Reformed Church. She took trips up and a down the East Coast with the church.
She was a longtime member of the church where she was also a vital part of the church quilting group and a member of the ladies’ guild. Mrs. Barber made quilts and afghans for many in her family.
“Mrs. Barber was always a warm and friendly woman who enjoyed her family and many friends,” her family wrote in a tribute. “She especially loved her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and glowed when they entered the room.”
Mrs. Barber wrapped herself around her family, always concerned about them. She never returned to Italy but kept in contact with relatives there. In her second country, she was focused on supporting her family, with a resourceful household and an emphasis on education for her children.
Mrs. Barber kept meticulous scrapbooks for recording town and family history, which will be on display with her quilts at her funeral.
She kept notes, Clifford Barber said, in beautiful handwriting: “Everything that was ever put away had a note on it, where it came from, where it was bought, who it was for.”
Nicolina (née Colucciello) Barber is survived by her three sons, Clifford Barber of East Berne and his wife, Karen, William Barber of Binghamton and his wife, Nancy, and Dennis Barber of Knox and his wife, Carol; her siblings, Michael Colucciello Jr., Gloria McDonald, Eleanor Bradley, and Raymond Colucciello and his wife, Irene; her “cherished” grandchildren, Nicholas Barber and his wife, Keri, Amy Morgan and her husband, Eric, Matthew Barber and his wife, Nicole, Daniel Barber, Julie Pluss, and her husband, Dale, Joshua Barber, and Justin Barber. She is also survived by her “adored” great-grandchildren, Jonah and Lucas Morgan, as well as many nieces and nephews.
Her husband, Marshall D. Barber, died before her, as did her siblings, Luigi Colucciello, Bianca Maderic, and Marie Colucciello.
Family and friends are invited to calling hours at the Fredendall Funeral Home at 199 Main St. in Altamont, on Friday, July 12, from 5 to 8 p.m. A funeral will be held on July 13 at 10 a.m. at the Knox Reformed Church on Route 156 in Knox with interment to follow at the Knox Cemetery.
Mourners may leave condolences online at www.fredendallfuneralhome.com.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Knox Reformed Church Memorial Fund, Post Office Box 86, Knox, NY 12008.
— Marcello Iaia