The Arc Mercer on Dec. 10 named its new Food Training Center in the memory of Nico Steinmann, who died last February.
The Arc Mercer on Dec. 10 named its new Food Training Center in the memory of Nico Steinmann, who died last February.

For many years, Nico Steinmann channeled her love of cooking into her work with the Arc of Mercer County’s Touch of Taste program.

When Steinmann died last February at age 43, a victim of cancer, more than $5,000 in donations poured into the Arc in her memory. Well loved by her family, friends and coworkers, she was also known throughout the community as the daughter of Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann and Chris, the town’s first lady.

On Dec. 10, the Arc held a ceremony and luncheon dedicating the expanded Touch of Taste program and Service Training Center in her name. Those in attendance included her parents.

“We decided to use the funds donated to us to improve the program that Nico loved and excelled in,” said Arc Mercer Executive Director Steven Cook. “It was our way of having our beloved colleague stay with us for years to come. Nico was an intelligent and hard-working woman with irresistible sweetness, tolerance and dignity.”

The Arc’s Touch of Taste is a full-service catering and training program in which people with developmental disabilities prepare more than 200 meals daily for programs like Meals on Wheels of Trenton/Ewing. The donations in Nico’s memory enabled the Arc to expand the program and buy supplies and new equipment for the training center.

Nico, who was diagnosed with a developmental disability when she was three years old, was involved with the Arc for more than two decades, and worked in the Touch of Taste program for much of that time. There, she and her coworkers developed skills in food preparation, baking, serving and proper sanitation techniques.

“We wanted to make sure her legacy is part of what we do and why we do it,” Cook said. “It was a natural.”

Cook also announced that every year the Arc Mercer will hold a Nico Steinmann Day, during which the organization will host a luncheon for elected officials (county, municipal and school) prepared by the Nico Steinmann Food Service Training Center.

“When Nicky passed away, it was probably one of the saddest days I had here,” Cook said. “There’s something that we miss about her every day. She was someone who made a difference in all of our lives. She could make you smile and really have a great time.”

For example, he recalled that when she first started going to Trenton Thunder games with the Arc, “she was literally petrified of (Thunder mascot) Boomer. She would become very upset when he came into the box that had been donated to us. But we just kept working at it, and one day she just decided that she was in love with Boomer. The next time we went to the Thunder game she ran up and gave him a big hug.”

“She truly personified a wonderful coworker and a wonderful person, who every day worked hard at what she did,” Cook said.

Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes also spoke at the dedication. “I hear Nicky was quite a baker, and everyone loved her cookies. I’m sure Nicky would be so happy today to see so many of her friends and family gathering here to break bread together.”

To the mayor and Chris Steinmann, he said, “I know how deeply you are committed to Arc Mercer and how grateful you are that Nicky had the opportunity to be part of such a supportive and loving community.”

Steinmann, in an interview with the Observer following the ceremony, talked about his family’s involvement with the Arc over the years.

Nico started with the organization in her young 20s —initially working at its New York Avenue facility and then later at the building on Ewingville Road, in which the Nico Steinmann Food Service Training Center is located.

The building is just around the corner from her house, where she lived with her parents. Her father would drop Nico off in the morning on his way to work, and she would walk home in the afternoon. Steinmann said the Touch of Taste Program was “a good fit” for Nico, and she worked there every weekday from about 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

“She had things that she could do there, rather than just be at home all day,” Steinmann said. “She had good interaction with the group.”

“Nicky was the kind of individual that would think nothing of coming to you and starting up a conversation with you,” he said. “She was a very outgoing individual. She would laugh and joke with you and could be your best friend. She was very compassionate, which I don’t find with too many people.”

Steinmann said considering the way Nico and other developmentally disabled people deal with others, he questions who the real people with disabilities are.

“Sometimes I wonder who the ‘normal people’ are,” he said. “I interact with people with developmental disabilities very well. It’s the so-called ‘normal people’ that I sometimes have a problem with, with their prejudices and everything else.”

Steinmann expressed gratitude to all those involved in honoring Nico, and to the Arc in particular. “The Arc did wonders for her and it did wonders for us, to be honest with you,” he said.

That’s why when the Arc asked Steinmann to serve on its Board of Directors years ago, “I didn’t hesitate,” he said. While Steinmann still serves as a member of the board, he’s not as active as he used to be due to the amount of time he has to spend running the township.

As for the Nicky Steinmann Day, “I told Steve Cook that if he wanted wanted to use it as a fundraiser for something, I would help him,” Steinmann said.

“It’s something to keep her memory alive and we were very thrilled,” the mayor said. “(The dedication) was a very difficult hour, though. I usually don’t show my emotions all that much, but it’s just that she meant the world to us.

“Not that my other my other two kids don’t. They do. And my grandkids. But she was just so special. And she was with us all the time — for 43 years.

“Obviously I would have traded all of this to still have her here, but that’s not meant to be. It’s a very, very difficult time. Every other day I’m still going to the cemetery. And we make it a special day every Sunday. We go and have a conversation with her and that’s one of our ways to get through it.”