Connection & Collaboration

Nina Gibans shares how a life focused on connecting the dots and embracing the arts led her to a home at Judson Park in the center of The Circle.

Earning a Judson Smart Living Award for philanthropy is how Nina Gibans was introduced in a significant way to the community she now calls home. It was 2008 and she told Judson at the time, “I think I’ve worked with all the institutions in University Circle. An idea might be mine, but it’s very much a collaborative process.”

Nina is a teacher, poet, producer, advocate and was an instrumental member of the Cleveland Artists Foundation, the Poet’s and Writer’s League of Greater Cleveland, Young Audiences of Greater Cleveland and the Cleveland Children’s Museum. She has long considered the Cleveland Museum of Art her second home. “My whole life has been in communicating with the community about the arts, writing about it and just connecting people – connecting the dots, which is what I’m still doing,” she says. For instance, she her dear friend and Judson neighbor Helen Zakin collaborated with the Judson Art Committee to create a show honoring Helen’s late artist brother, John Jackson. It’s the first exhibit since the pandemic.

Nina’s Judson home is a reflection of her vibrant life. Often, associates will ask her, “Where did you get that chair?” or, “Tell me about the rug.” Each piece has a story. “I am sitting in my daughter’s old desk,” Nina laughs, recalling memories of downsizing when she and late husband Jim Gibans chose Judson. “We downsized and gave away what we had in our lives to friends, and that is how we felt about people who come here – take a book if you want it. Take an apple.”

An Artist and Advocate

Nina, who will turn 90, is the oldest person in the world (to her knowledge) with Cerebral Palsy. “Judson’s health maintenance facility has been critical,” she says. “I would not be here if it were not for the wonderful staff, physical therapy – and I think my doctors are the best in Cleveland.”

When Nina came home from the hospital as a 2-pound baby, her parents sought the absolute best care for her from day one. Gibans’ father was Dr. Sam Freelander, who wrote the proposal to the state for Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) in Ohio and started the surgical unit at MetroHealth, which then was called City Hospital. “He made sure that I did what I could do – and he let me do it,” she relates.

Nina grew up in Shaker Heights and attended Wellesley College for two years before finishing her degree in art, music and literature at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. She returned to Cleveland to earn a master’s degree from Case Western Reserve University in history and aesthetics.

She married James Gibans (2018) an architect with Herman Gibans Fodor, which in 2007 became Hiti, DiFrancesco and Siebold, Inc. There’s a Judson connection there, too. “Jim had a lot to do with the renovation of this building (Judson Manor) and his firm is still working here,” Nina points out.

A can-do spirit and gift for connecting people has led Nina down a series of interwoven, interesting paths throughout her life. Connections through collaboration is something she has practiced her whole life, beginning at a young age when those relationships and referrals were about healthcare and education to manage Cerebral Palsy. As an artist and advocate, she is motivated by ensuring the next generation can engage in the city’s vibrant cultural community. And she never stops at the effort. For example, she’s focused on an upcoming show at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes that will showcase her poetry book, Garden of Old Age. The show was displayed at the The George A. Streeter Gallery in Judson.

Centered on Culture

“My life has always circled around University Circle,” Nina says. Upon moving into Judson, she was invited to head the Program Committee. She also serves on the Arts Committee. “This is the best location in Cleveland for citizens who need and want to get around and walk,” she adds. “And if you cannot walk, there is transportation to the museums. When we need to go someplace, there is help.”

Nina has four children and four children who live out of town. Her niece in Cleveland, who is also a physical therapist, helps out with medical appointments. And her Judson family and support system means the world.

Meanwhile, she continues to connect the dots as she meets residents who share interests. “There is a group here that went to Wellesley with me, a group that went to Laurel School with me,” she says. “Judson is rare in the position that it connects people who have had lives in other ways together.”

Turning 90, Nina says, “I’m persistent. I’m feisty a lot of the time!” And most of all, “I’m just me.”

© Copyright 2022 Judson Services, Inc. Judson Smart Living® is a registered trademark Privacy Policy Sitemap