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Nick Livingston

Architect, builder, artist, writer, pianist

Claremont resident Nick Livingston died peacefully on New Year’s Day at Oak Park Manor in Claremont. He was 87 years old.

He was known as an architect, artist, pianist, and writer of novels, screenplays and poetry. 

He was born in 1931 in the Chicago suburb of Aurora, Illinois to Olga and Burt Livingston. His mother was a homemaker and his father a book salesman.

He graduated from Ripon College in Wisconsin with a degree in history. He then served in the US Army in Germany at the end of the Korean War. After receiving his architectural degree from the University of Illinois, he worked in Africa, Texas, and the Chicago suburbs, designing residential and commercial buildings.

He met his wife, then Ellen Harvell Dohner, in Park Forest, Illinois, where she was serving as lead minister to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Suburbs. They met when he played the piano for services at that congregation and would bring his band for social events. 

At the time the congregation was having to rent space for their services. Mr. Livingston offered to design and build a modern cedar-framed building on land the church owned in the woods in Park Forest. He not only volunteered his services but followed through on helping to raise money for the project. 

Three years after the dedication of the new building, he and Ellen became engaged. They were wed in 1982 at the new church building which offered views of the forest through the large windows Mr. Livingston had designed.

They became lifelong partners. Mrs. Livingston said he was also her colleague and loyal helpmate in every way possible, both within their shared faith and with work in her ministry.

Four years after they were married, even though they were enjoying the congregation and their light filled Frank Lloyd Wright inspired building, they made the decision to forsake the frigid weather of Illinois; Mr. Livingston persuaded his wife to send her application to what is now called the Monte Vista Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Montclair.

She accepted the church’s call in August 1986. The Livingstons soon fell in love with California and have lived here, first in Rancho Cucamonga and then in Claremont, ever since. 

Mr. Livingston transferred his architectural license to California and worked as a freelancer and builder in the inland valley until he retired in 2012. Up until then he was known as the official designer of many additions and improvements at the congregation as well as its maintenance person. As the church’s programs expanded, he designed and built a classroom wing dedicated to and named after him, Livingston Hall.

He was a true Renaissance man, with many talents and accomplishments.

He often left his drafting board and hammer long enough to play the piano for church worship services and social events. His greatest joy was playing favorite songs there and at parties, often held in their home, while friends sang old favorites around the piano. He was often accompanied by other musicians with stringed instruments and drums.

As a painter, he had several shows over the years, both in the Chicago area and in California, where his work was shown at Pomona’s dA Center for the Arts, galleries in Laguna Beach, at the Monte Vista Unitarian Universalist Congregation, and most recently at Claremont Village Green. All of his works were painted in California and Mexico, where he was inspired by nature’s variety of gorgeous landscapes.  

Four years ago he published a novel, Stained Glass Warrior. In it he portrays a young artist from the Chicago inner city who is drafted into the army, and his struggles to survive injuries sustained on the battlefield in World War II. In the book there is a description of how the protagonist developed artistic projects to encourage alternatives to a culture of war.

Although he served in the US Army during the Korean War as a teacher of enlisted men in Germany, he was a man of peace and was passionate about civil rights and the founding tenets of our democratic republic.

The Livingstons enjoyed traveling and had three places they considered their spiritual homes: Cambria, California; San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; and Ms. Livingston’s birthplace, Boston. They especially enjoyed Hispanic people, culture and places, and traveled to Mexico often.

Even though his accomplishments were many over his 87 years, it was his love of life and people that was his most outstanding gift to others, his family shared. A friend said “Nick knew how to have fun, not take life too seriously. He made me and others around him feel important. To him, all of us were. He made me a better person for having known him.”

He leaves behind his wife, the Reverend Ellen Livingston, who was his soul mate and biggest fan; three stepchildren, Markus and Luke Dohner, and Katherine Dohner Acenas, who share with him his love of art and progressive faith; five grandchildren; his niece Karen Jenneke, her brother David Jenneke, his wife Sandy and their son, Nickolas.

A celebration of Mr. Livingston’s life will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, February 2 at Monte Vista Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 9185 Monte Vista Ave., Montclair. Contributions are welcome in his honor for the programs at that congregation. To donate online, go to montevistauu.org and click on the “Stewardship” tab.