SSW remembers Professor Helen Kivnick
Professor Helen Kivnick died September 14, 2020, at the age of 70. She had been at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work since 1990, and will be sorely missed by her coworkers, students and friends. We have gathered their memories on this page. If you wish to contribute to this page, send your item to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you wish to make a contribution in Helen's memory, her family suggests the Kivnick-Gardner Fund for the Arts and Social Work in the University of Minnesota Foundation, the Masonic Cancer Center of the University of Minnesota, Temple Israel, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
A Litany of Remembrance (read at Helen's shiva)
In the rising of the sun and at its going down, we remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them.
At the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them.
At the blueness of the sky and the warmth of summer, we remember them.
At the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them.
When we have joys we crave to share, we remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs, we remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us, our thoughts, our deeds.
May their memories always be a blessing. Amen
Helen's life was saturated with music, art, vitality, and wonder. All of these characteristics drove her research on older adults and vital involvement: vital involvement as a social capital that undergirds all of us from young to old. This is so evident in the music that shaped her research, from leading choirs of kids in City Songs, to making Grammy-nominated recordings of folk performances in South Africa, to the vitality that singing-together restores within older adults with dementia.
Jim Reinardy, School of Social Work, University of Minnesota
25+ years ago I had the privilege of working with Helen as her graduate assistant in her summer CitySongs program, after having had her as my professor. Helen helped shape who I am as a social worker, as a professional and certainly as a supervisor. I find that I quote her regularly, even all of these years later. She was a role model in so many ways, a hard worker beyond what I thought humanly possible. Her life will live on in my work, and the works of others but she will be dearly dearly missed. May her memory be for a blessing.
Helen was a force, and a heart. It is hard to imagine a School of Social Work without her. זייל
A wonderful professor and a wonderful colleague. Her spirit will be greatly missed.
One of my favorites as well and her work with older adults still sticks with me even 30 years post MSW. I often referenced her work as a professor myself in an MSW program through LUSSW.
An extraordinary and joyful full of life force. Thank you, Helen Kivnick.
I will always remember how she reached out to me and offered friendship and guidance when I came to the school to teach. Her warmth and generosity and mentorship were so helpful at that time. I am also struck with her comments at the last SSW Council meeting when we were all together, and she urged us to recognize the passing of an era with faculty retirements, etc., and note the importance of honoring the school community that was and is now changing. Little did we know she would be leaving us so soon.
One of my favorite professors and personal mentor in the program. THANK YOU HELEN! You made the world a better place.
I am incredibly sad about losing Helen. Helen was a brilliant scholar who brought joy to all she did, from creating groundbreaking theories of vital involvement in old age to starting up CitySongs to producing Grammy-nominated folk albums to mentoring countless numbers of students. Most importantly, she was kind and generous - so lucky to have had her as a friend. I feel like I learned most about her vital involvement theory by watching how she lived her own life. I miss her so much.
Liz Lightfoot, University of Minnesota, USA
Helen was a creative, innovative researcher, the founder and director of CitySongs, wrote songs using words of the people she interviewed, and was a pioneer in the promotion and development of programs and research on vital involvement in old age. I loved her, and so did her other colleagues. I am heartbroken.
I met Helen when I moved to Minneapolis in 2006. I heard about a part-time position working with the CitySongs program as the Social Work Education Director and applied. As someone with an undergraduate degree in theatre, coupled with a Master's Degree in Social Work and a commitment to using the arts with young people, it seemed like a perfect fit.
I already had a full-time job at the University at the time, working with students who were parenting while receiving their first degree. I had experience managing multiple jobs at once from work I had done in Chicago before moving to Minneapolis. Helen sensed I was up for the challenge and we made it work.
At the time, I had no idea what kind of wild ride I was about to get on and the many gifts I would receive by being a small part of the CitySongs program. Not only did I learn so much from the young people in the program and the great social work interns, but I found a new mentor, a dear kindred spirit, and a fierce role model for life in Helen Kivnick.
I sat in meetings and rehearsals with her and could almost see the synapses working inside her mind. She was so sharp, so in tune, so deeply committed and passionate. She was a force to be reckoned with--and a beautiful one at that.
Now, 14 years later, I look back on that time with such deep fondness and gratitude. I am so grateful for the true gifts of Helen Kivnick. The gifts she shared with colleagues, friends, and family all remain with us. If only we had more time to glean all the incredible threads of beauty, passion, and commitment that she sowed throughout her life. If only we could have one more conversation, one more deep connection, one more day, moment, second--one more lifetime with Helen.
The last time I saw her in person was early February of 2020 at the Seward Co-Op Creamery. We met for tea. We talked in depth about the wonderful continuing education session she hosted at the School of Social Work in September of 2019. She had invited a folk singer from Pennsylvania who sang protest songs and music with deep connection to people from all walks of life. Helen used the songs as a springboard for reminding the audience the ways in which music and the arts, in general, can provide true healing. Our passion for the arts was something that bound us together and will forevermore; death cannot take that away. Little did I know when I saw Helen in February that, a month later, we would face a global pandemic and we would never see each other again.
We are all better people because of the many gifts Helen gave to the social work community, her family, her friends, her colleagues, the arts community, and the world.
Like so many others, I will miss her so. I will treasure her forever. And I will never forget her compassion, passion, humor, depth, sincerity, intelligence, warmth, community-mindedness, laugh, and love for all who surround her.
In Harmony, dear Helen
Jerri Clark Wagner