Helen Q. Kivnick co-authored a book with a famous psychologist, developed programs to help aging people and at-risk youths, and was nominated for a Grammy Award.
A psychologist and University of Minnesota professor of social work, Kivnick combined diverse interests in projects on behalf of social justice.
"She was definitely out of the box," said Gary Gardner, a professor of horticultural science at the U and Kivnick's husband of almost 40 years. "She could make connections that most people couldn't."
Kivnick, 70, of Minneapolis, died on Sept. 14 of pneumonia. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016.
Kivnick, a native of Philadelphia, became one of the first women to attend Yale University. She received master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Michigan and became a licensed clinical psychologist and social worker.
In graduate school she studied the psychological aspects of being a grandparent, which led to a lifelong interest in aging. She co-wrote a book, "Vital Involvement in Old Age," with renowned developmental psychologist Erik Erikson and his wife, Joan.
Kivnick spearheaded the development of Vital Involvement Practice, an approach to improving quality of life for older people that has been adopted in senior housing facilities. Many of the dozens of academic articles she wrote and co-wrote were on topics related to aging. Among other awards, she was named the Minnesota Gerontological Society's 2017 Gerontologist of the Year.
She was also a musician, and with Gardner sang, played instruments and composed songs for their Minneapolis synagogues, Shir Tikvah and Temple Israel.
"I can just see her ... leading people with a smile as she was singing and teaching songs of love and equity and justice," said Rabbi Stacy Offner, formerly of Shir Tikvah, who now lives in Guilford, Conn.
Kivnick and Gardner became interested in the traditional singing of South Africa's Black community and traveled there in the 1980s to meet and record singers. They produced several commercially released albums, Gardner said; one of them, "Mbube! Zulu Men's Singing Competition," was nominated for a 1987 Grammy Award.
From that experience sprang CitySongs: Healthy Youth and Community Development through Music, a singing program Kivnick developed in the 1990s for at-risk youths. She served as executive director of the organization, helping write music celebrating diversity and connecting kids with educational and professional opportunities.
"We just went above and beyond for the kids in CitySongs, trying to give them the best support we could," said BethMarie Ward of Los Angeles, the organization's longtime managing director. "There's a ton of success stories out there that are really touching."
Given her dedication — she typically worked 80 to 100 hours a week, Gardner said — Kivnick might sound like a bit of a grind. Far from it, said those who knew her.
"She was funny and she had a great laugh," said Nancy Abramson, a colleague and Offner's wife. "She had a lot of joy."
After being diagnosed with cancer, Kivnick used a CaringBridge page to write about her illness and treatments. She also wrote about her travels and other experiences and thoughts she had along the way.
Her future was "far more unpredictable than ever before," Kivnick wrote in 2017. But she was "trying to think and live my life with integrity, in ways that allow me to maintain my vital involvement in the world outside. (Aren't we all?)"
Besides her husband, Kivnick is survived by her brothers, Rick of New York City and Seth of Santa Monica, Calif. Services have been held.