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Nancy Gillen Casey

Grandmother, volunteer, rancher, traveler

Nancy Casey, a 57-year Claremont resident, died peacefully on January 16, 2018. She was 97.

She was born in Pomona in 1920. Her parents were local ranchers who had come to the area at the turn of the 20th century. The Pomona of her youth was a farming community, and she lived in an orange grove near the city center. She retained an interest in farming and agriculture for her entire life.

The friendships Ms. Casey made in Pomona, she kept for a lifetime.

“When we used to drive around Lincoln Park in downtown Pomona, my mom would tell me the names of all the people who used to live in all the houses,” said her daughter, Pamela Casey Nagler. “Those friends who didn’t live in Lincoln Park, lived in Ganesha Park. Her father, her father-in-law and mother-in-law, aunts and uncles, cousins on both sides of the family, all attended Pomona High School.” 

At Pomona High, she met one of her lifelong best friends, Marie Palomares, of the Palomares family who, in 1837, received a land grant from the Mexican government for Rancho San Jose, the oldest home in the Pomona Valley.

Growing up, her family kept workhorses on the orange grove, and she would ride them throughout the area, developing a deep love for nature and California landscapes.

For a brief time, she lived in Fullerton, and used to tell stories about collecting frogs and toads in a stream near Bastanchury Ranch. She loved the Pacific Ocean and spent much time at Newport, Balboa Island and Laguna Beach. In high school and college, she and her friends used to drive up to Mt. Baldy’s Wagon Wheel Casino to dance on the glass dance floor that was constructed over San Antonio Creek.

She also loved fashion. Her mother and grandmother were seamstresses, schooled in the old ways in a German community in Ottumwa, Iowa. Her mother could fashion any clothing item that young Nancy imagined. She developed an eye for color, proportion and silhouette. Throughout her life she always loved to shop and look through fashion magazines. 

While at Pomona High, she was crowned a Los Angeles County Fair Princess. Teasingly, a former boyfriend used to call her the “Queen of the Corn.” After she graduated from Pomona Junior College, World War II broke out and she went to work in a bank in downtown Pomona.

After the war, she married Lt. Kenneth Casey, a fellow classmate at Pomona High. The young couple took over an orange grove owned by her husband’s family in La Verne, which they kept for decades before divesting and acquiring an avocado grove in Temecula.

The couple lived up north in Palo Alto for a year while Mr. Casey finished his master’s degree in engineering at Stanford University. While at Stanford, Ms. Casey worked for the university’s cultural affairs office, arranging bookings for the various lecturers and events that came to campus.

The family, which had by then grown to include a son, Patrick, and a daughter, Pamela, returned home to the Pomona Valley after Mr. Casey accepted a position at Kaiser Steel in Fontana, a job that turned into his lifelong career.

The Casey family moved to Claremont in 1960. Their home stood on a parcel of land that butted up to a gully, with an old indigenous stand of live oaks. In the winters, they took their children to ski at Badger Flats in Yosemite and to Mammoth Mountain.

In the summers, the brood took some trips around the country, but much of their time was spent at the local beaches around Southern California.

A dedicated homemaker, Ms. Casey was involved in various Pomona Valley charity groups, including AbilityFirst, the Pomona Valley Hospital Auxiliary, the National Charity League, the Assistance League and Lazy Susans, among others. She and her friends ran fundraisers, bake sales, thrift stores and dental clinics. Her favorite volunteer work was probably serving as a receptionist at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, where she relished greeting everyone.

In her later years, she and Mr. Casey traveled to Europe, Mexico, Canada, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and spent much time socializing and playing bridge with old friends.

Her husband preceded her in death a couple of years ago. Wonderful caregivers tended both in the last years of their lives.

Ms. Casey is survived by her son, Kenneth Patrick Casey and his wife, Cynthia Cosentino Casey; her daughter, Pamela Casey Nagler and her husband, Steven Nagler; and her granddaughter, Lucia Danielle Nagler, who continues the family legacy by teaching art at Pomona High School.

A memorial service took place earlier this week. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation is Ms. Casey’s name to The Historical Society of Pomona Valley at pomonahistorical.org.