Nancy Meiss: Legacy Lives on Through Lifetime of Dedication to Figure Skating

By Barb Reichert

Nancy Meiss was a fixture at figure skating events far and wide. A distinguished 50-year judge, a tireless volunteer and one of the sport's most ardent supporters, Meiss passed away Jan. 1 in Cincinnati. She was 90 years old.

Meiss, who was born Dec. 12, 1922, began her career in 1958 as an ice dancing and figures judge. She judged at every level, including World Championships and the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary. In 2009, she was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

"I am honored, I am humbled, and I realize there are so many other people who deserve this honor and I thank them for giving it to me," Meiss said at the induction ceremony.

Meiss, who grew up in the Chicago area, moved to Cincinnati in 1942 after marrying Harry Meiss. Shortly after her arrival, she set her sights on improving and expanding figure skating in her adopted hometown, which at the time did not have an indoor rink.

Meiss founded the Queen City Figure Skating Club in 1956 and served as its president from 1971-74. She started the club's scholarship fund and was its delegate at every U.S. Figure Skating Governing Council. Wanting to showcase the city and the sport, Meiss was instrumental in bringing the 1979 U.S. Championships and 1987 World Championships to Cincinnati.

"The city loved her," said Marlene Shmalo, a past club president and a longtime close friend. "Her name is like gold here."

Meiss' passion for figure skating came in an unlikely manner. A talented swimmer, diver, equestrian and tennis player, she began skating in Chicago when she was 12.

"She was a gifted athlete and very good at everything she did," Shmalo said. "But skating was difficult for her. Still, she fell in love with it."

While attending an event as a fan, her husband encouraged her to introduce herself to Margaretta Drake and Harry Radix. After some discussion, they convinced her to attend a judges school in East Lansing, Mich. Meiss bought a $25 Greyhound bus ticket that changed her life and resulted in a lifetime of globetrotting.

She took judging seriously, and respected the position immensely. But first and foremost, Shmalo said, she respected the skaters.

"One night, during hospitality, Nancy was standing with a young man who did trial tests," Shmalo recalled. "He said, 'I really enjoy failing some of these kids.' Nancy spun around and said, 'Listen, if the kid has done the work and you find it acceptable, you will pass that kid or go find something else to do with your life.'

"I don't remember ever seeing that young man again."

Meiss served on numerous U.S. Figure Skating committees, helping shape the organization she loved so much. At the time of her death, she was an active member of the Memorial Fund committee and was an elector for the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

She was a team leader at several international events and attended each Olympics, World Championships and U.S. Championships. In 1980, she chaired the practice ice for the Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y.

"It was the most interesting, exciting time of my life," Meiss said in 2009. "We worked 12- to14-hour days and enjoyed every minute of it."

At those Games, Meiss had the pleasure of watching Scott Hamilton, who years earlier struggled both competitively and financially. In 1972, when Hamilton was 13, his mother asked the respected judge for advice.

"Nancy was very candid, and my mother liked that about her," Hamilton wrote in his book Landing it: My Life on and off the Ice. "(Meiss) agreed that a change was called for: If I was to get to the next level, I needed a coach who understood the next level."

Meiss introduced a young Hamilton to coach Carlo Fassi and sponsors Helen and Frank McLoraine, who helped transform his skating and his life. In 1984, Hamilton won the Olympic title in Sarajevo.

Though slowed by recent health issues, Meiss attended 2012 World Championships in Nice, France, and the annual Governing Council in in Myrtle Beach, S.C. She had secured plans to attend the 2013 U.S. Championships in Omaha, Jan. 20-27.

While travel had become difficult, Meiss' last trip was a first for her: a 90th birthday cruise to the Caribbean with her family.

"Every day on the cruise, we celebrated her birthday and her life," her daughter, Toni Scherzer, told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Meiss is survived by her daughter Toni Scherzer, son-in-law Don Scherzer, and granddaughter Gabrielle Scherzer.

A memorial service was held Jan. 3 in Cincinnati. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be made to Queen City Figure Skating Scholarship Fund, care of Marlene Shmalo, 7900 Willowridge Lane, Cincinnati, OH 45237; the World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame, 20 First Street, Colorado Springs, CO. 80906; or the charity of one's choice.

Photo courtesy of Toni Scherzer:
Nancy Meiss had plenty to smile about during her 90th birthday celebration on 12/12/12.

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