MADISON—Barbara “Bobbi” Nowak passed away on Aug. 6, 2019, at University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison, after a brief illness.

The eldest child of Max and Dinah (Steinberg) Israel, she was born October 19, 1935 in New York City, where she attended public schools and was graduated from Hunter College High School. Bobbi attended Bennington College, earning a BA in Literature in 1958. There she met her future husband, Lionel Augustus (“Doc”) Nowak. They wed in 1956, and remained happily married until his death in 2009.

After they were married, the couple moved to California, where Doc was stationed as part of his military service. In the fall of 1957, they moved back east and she completed her senior year at Bennington. They moved to New York City in 1958, where they lived until 1964 and where their daughter, Rhea Miranda, was born in 1962. Their son, Seth William, was born in 1966 in Washington Conn., where Doc was a music teacher at Wykeham Rise School. The family moved to Lexington, Mass. in 1968, where Doc had gotten a job teaching music in the public schools. Bobbi and Doc bought their first and only house together there in 1969, and they made it their home for more than 37 years.

In addition to raising the kids, Bobbi had at least two professional careers during this period. Her 1981 Masters of Urban Affairs from Boston University led to work in elder services, home care management, and other nonprofit programs. In 1995, she opened yet another chapter in her life by earning a Masters of Library Science from Simmons University. She worked at the Somerville, Mass. public library, where among other responsibilities, she was a reference librarian and led collection development. She retired in 2010 at 75. Bobbi was an active member the First Parish Unitarian Universalist church throughout her time in Massachusetts.

Bobbi moved to Madison, Wis. in 2011 and became active in her neighborhood association, voter registration and working at the polls. She was also active at her local public library, where she worked indefatigably at book sales and other volunteer activities. She resumed gardening after buying a house in Madison and was on her way to fulfilling her goal of replacing the entire lawn with flowers, shrubs, and vegetables. She loved to walk in her neighborhood and at Olbrich Gardens with her friends and by herself. Motivated by a deep love of learning, Bobbi was always an avid and eclectic reader. She never let age slow her down or keep her from working for progressive and humanitarian causes. After retirement she studied Hebrew and the Torah, practiced Tai Chi, participated in book groups, took classes. She was also a lover of music – classical and medieval, opera, folk – and an unashamed fan of the bagpipe. Her home was always open to friends and family, her wit was sharp and her generosity boundless. We will all miss her.

Bobbi was preceded in death by her parents and husband, as well as her sister Felicia Mucciolo-Israel. She is survived by her children, Rhea’s husband Tim Ploss, her brother Robert, nephews Aaron and Michael Mucciolo, several cousins and their children and grandchildren, the Nowak family, and many friends and associates in Massachusetts and Madison, including the congregation at Shaarei Shamayim and the Friends of Hawthorne Library.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, The Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, and Friends of Hawthorne Library. Online condolences are available at There will be an informal potluck and remembrance on Saturday, Sept. 21 at James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 2146 E Johnson St., Madison, Wis. 53704, from 4 to 7 p.m.

To plant a tree in memory of Barbara Nowak as a living tribute, please visit Tribute Store.

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