Nancy Sterling used to talk about growing up in Elmont when it was mostly farmland, of picking carrots from the garden and walking over to what is now the Belmont racetrack to feed horses in the early morning hours, one of her daughters said.
That was the start of a life that was lived almost entirely on Long Island, where Sterling raised three daughters in Merrick, one of her daughters, Gale Walsh, of Aquebogue, said.
Sterling died May 16 at a nursing home in upstate Utica of the coronavirus, Walsh said. She was 90.
Walsh said her mother had initially been treated at a hospital in the Utica area for an unrelated condition, and had then been eventually transferred to a rehabilitation center because of her frail condition after a previous fall. Her mother was then moved to the nursing home where she died, Walsh said.
Before getting sick, Sterling had been living near Walsh's twin sister, Gwen Henry, of upstate West Edmeston, the daughter said.
Walsh said her mother had endless energy, wit and a keen sense of style, and family always came first.
"She was always dressed so well," Walsh said. "Kept an impeccable home that was warm and inviting. She was very good at decorating and putting a room together. People would always ask her for advice on the topic."
Sterling graduated from Sewanhaka High School, and married her husband, George, shortly after World War II when she was 18 years old, Walsh said.
Her father began work as a meter reader for LILCO, the former power company, and worked his way up to retire in management, Walsh said.
When she was in the eighth grade, Walsh said, her mother began a 30-year career in the sale of women’s clothing, working at dress shops in Hempstead, at Roosevelt Field, and the Dress Barn in Freeport, where she was a key person in helping set up the store’s opening, and a senior saleswoman.
"She was so talented with her decorating skills and sense of style," Walsh said. "She was always put together. Never left the house without her eyebrows, lipstick and hair done."
In addition, her mother was very active in the Church of the Redeemer in Merrick, where her knack for producing her “famous” potato and ambrosia salads for socials and other functions was always in demand, Walsh recalled.
She also had a love for animals, having adopted several over her lifetime.
Her mother’s sense of style was innate, without any formal training, but “people would always ask her for advice,” Walsh said. And she was a model for her advice, always immaculately groomed, never leaving the house without her makeup on and hair, all perfectly done.
Shortly before her mother died in the nursing home, Walsh said Sterling was upset because she had not been able to do her hair and she hadn’t had a chance to put on proper makeup.
In addition to her daughters, Sterling is survived by nine grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. Along with her husband, Sterling was predeceased by a daughter, Nancy Goldman, Walsh said.
Because her mother had contracted the virus, family members couldn’t enter the nursing home to say farewell.
“We stood vigil outside her window as she received the last rites and her breathing stopped, “ Walsh said. “How awful not to be able to hold her hand, kiss her cheek and tell her one last time that we loved her. The emptiness we feel is overwhelming! No wake. No funeral. No flowers. No closure.”
There was no service and Sterling was buried in Pinelawn Memorial Park in Pinelawn, Walsh said.