For 42 years, Virginia Niccolai taught art in the Charleroi Area School District, and to honor that legacy, the district will dedicate a high school art room in her memory at 3 p.m. Dec. 7.
Miss Niccolai was born in Vesta, a small community along the Monongahela River in Washington County. She moved to Charleroi at the age of 4 with her parents, Nello and Carabina Niccolai, who were immigrants from the Tuscany region of Italy.
After graduating from Charleroi High School in 1939, she entered California State Teachers College, now California University of Pennsylvania, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1943. She taught art at the Crest Avenue School in Charleroi, and in 1945, she added special education students to her art teaching duties.
"Because Virginia was fascinated with Native American art and pottery, in her summers off from school, she went to graduate school at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M.," said cousin Patricia Kasuda of Catonsville, Md. "Eventually, she earned a master's degree."
In 1959, Miss Niccolai transferred to the junior high school, where she continued to teach special education until 1961, when she began teaching art at the senior high school, the first time the class was offered to high school students.
She was affectionately known as "Miss Nic" and served as the sponsor for the classes of 1962, 1971, 1982, 1983 and 1984, assisting with proms and other activities.
Miss Niccolai lived in her family's home in Charleroi until 2002, when she moved to the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville, to be close to Mrs. Kasuda, with whom she often traveled.
Miss Niccolai also was an artist who painted in watercolors and oils and made pottery. Some of her work was shown at the John K. Tener Library in Charleroi, where she once served as board president.
Miss Niccolai was past president and vice president of the Pennsylvania Teachers Association and president of the Charleroi and Washington County Business and Professional Women. She was active at the former Mother of Sorrows Church and at Mary, Mother of the Church parishes in Charleroi.
She kept active in her retirement years in Maryland. She was on the educational committee for the Community College of Baltimore County, taught art at the Charlestown Retirement Community and was a member of the Welcome Home Troops group, the community's annual art show and the Garden Club. For her achievements, she was inducted into the Maryland Senior Hall of Fame.
Miss Niccolai died of kidney-related disease Oct. 20 at the age of 91.
"Miss Niccolai demonstrated the fact that teaching is truly a calling," said Brad Ferko, superintendent of the Charleroi Area School District. "She instilled the love of the arts in all of her students. Her love of her students and their love and admiration for her will endure for years to come."
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: email@example.com.