Nina Emerson Opel died peacefully at her longtime family home in Eastham on Sept. 18, 2022. She was 93.
Nina was treasured for her love and devotion to family and friends and for her selflessness and service to her community. She exemplified the social work concept of unconditional positive regard for everyone she met.
Known as Nini, she had a way of making others feel special. She had a story or joke for every situation, and her generosity of spirit touched everyone who met her. She was “green” long before it was cool to be green, subtly leading by example.
To the utter delight of family and friends, Nina raised many litters of golden retriever puppies: she loved animals, and they loved her.
Nina Emerson was born in Cambridge on March 28, 1929, the daughter of Rupert Emerson, a professor of government at Harvard University, and Alla Grosjean Emerson, who was born in Russia and educated in London and at Radcliffe College.
She attended Buckingham Browne & Nichols School, where she had the distinction of being tardy almost every day even though the school was across the street from her home. She and her brother, Billy, climbed the exterior of every scalable building in Cambridge, including the Sheraton Commander Hotel and Harvard Law School.
After finishing high school at the George School in Newtown, Pa., she earned a bachelor’s degree in social relations at Radcliffe.
One evening, while out for dinner in Harvard Square, Nina felt unwell; a tall, handsome young man from Kansas escorted her outside. Seventy-one years of marriage to Bill Opel ensued.
After receiving her master’s degree from the Simmons School of Social Work, Nina was employed as a foster care worker in New York City. Nina and Bill then moved to Newport, R.I., and Bill took a teaching job at St. George’s School in Middletown.
While giving birth in 1956, Nina learned that she was having twins when the doctor announced, “And now we will go get the other one!”
Nina moved with her family to McLean, Va.; their second daughter, Sasha, was born there. After that, the family was off to Lower Sydenham, England, and then to Accra, Ghana, where Nina was instrumental in developing the American Field Service program.
Upon the family’s return from Africa, they lived in Oxon Hill, Md. for eight years. After several moves through New England, Nina and Bill retired to their beloved family home in Eastham, the property Nina’s parents had purchased in 1938.
Over many years, Nina and Bill entertained family and friends at home. Her nickname, Nini, was bestowed on her by the grandchildren.
Nina earned local fame on Cape Cod for selling more than a million dollars’ worth of gift cards for the Interfaith Council — now the Homeless Prevention Council.
She and Bill continued to travel, adding India and Mexico to a list of destinations that already included Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast, Russia, and most of Europe.
Nina is survived by her husband, William Opel of Eastham; daughter Suzanne Donner and husband Stefan of Berryville, Va. and their children, Aza Ivey and husband Alex of Washington, D.C., Ilia, Konstantin, and Anastasia; daughter Sasha Opel and partner Bill of Acton and Sasha’s sons, Cary DeMello of Watertown and Nicholas DeMello of Providence, R.I.; sister Natasha Pfeiffer of Tampa, Fla.; brother Rupert Emerson and wife Nicolene of South Euclid, Ohio; sister-in-law Sarah Meselson and partner Arthur; sister-in-law Regina Emerson; daughter-in-law Jennifer Baker; and many beloved nieces and nephews.
Nina was predeceased by her parents, Rupert and Alla Emerson; her brother, William “Billy” Key Bond Emerson III; and her son, Paul Opel.
The family has expressed its thanks to Nina’s caregivers Liz, Gail, and Ali and to daughter Sasha and sister-in-law Sarah, who made it possible for Nina to live out her years at home.
A celebration of Nina’s life will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 5 at the Eastham Methodist Church, 3200 Route 6.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Homeless Prevention Council, P.O. Box 828, Orleans 02653 and at hpccapecod.org/.