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Evanston centenarian Sydelle Nelson was a dynamo at the bridge table and no slouch at Scrabble either, outplaying much younger players into her 100s.

Ms. Nelson died Sept. 30 at her home.

City officials were checking with the State’s Vital Records department to see whether Ms. Nelson, 106 years old at the time of her death, was Evanston’s oldest citizen.

Her 100th birthday party at the Levy Center in June 2013 brought visits from Evanston mayors Lorraine Morton and Elizabeth Tisdahl.

At the event, fellow bridge players celebrated Ms. Nelson in song and verse.

(One sample line: “She lives life at her own special pace and never has been known to trump her partner’s ace.”)

Born on June 5, 1913, as Sydelle Fineman, Ms. Nelson grew up on Chicago’s South Side.

Her father, Oscar Fineman, came to the United States from Russia at age 13 shortly after the 1890 World’s Fair, went to the Illinois Institute of Technology and opened a shoe store, said Todd Nelson, Ms. Nelson’s grandson.

Mr. Fineman later opened the first currency exchange in Chicago during the Great Depression, Mr. Nelson said.

Ms. Nelson graduated from Hyde Park High School. She then attended the University of Chicago, where she met her husband, Myron “Mike” Nelson. He later graduated from the University of Chicago Law School and operated a small legal practice, Mr. Nelson said.

Ms. Nelson attended master’s level classes at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Upon  

graduation, she worked for the Works Progress Administration, as  part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. 

In that job, she told her grandson once, “I had a case load of over 200 people. But that’s okay, we were just happy to have the job.”

After the death of her husband, Ms. Nelson made many friends and stayed sociable and active, her grandson said. Later, she met a man, Baruch “Ben” Wilde, who was her companion for 30 years, he said.

Ms. Nelson traveled frequently in later years. Her destinations included Israel, Egypt, China, Mexico, Greece, the former Yugoslavia, Costa Rica, Peru, Kenya and many other international and domestic destinations, Mr. Nelson said.

He said his grandmother was a strong supporter of Jewish causes and the State of Israel as a major donor to Na’Amat and the Jewish United Fund.

She was also a strong supporter of the Democratic Party and was overjoyed when Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination and was subsequently elected president, her grandson said.

Ms. Nelson was a patron of the arts and loved classical music, he said. She frequently listened to WFMT, went to concerts downtown, at Ravinia, at Gillson Park, and at Northwestern University, he said.

An active card player, especially bridge and gin rummy, Ms. Nelson sat in on games throughout the area, including at the Levy Center.

She has been playing bridge since high school, “and I’m still learning,” she told a reporter at her 100th birthday party.

She had four children with Myron:  Alan “Al” D. Nelson, Sandra “Sandy” S. Weinberg, Robert “Bob” Nelson and Leonard A. Nelson. She also leaves behind seven grandchildren: Michael Weinberg, Stephan Weinberg, Michael Nelson, Rachel White Todd Nelson, Grant Nelson and Alexandra “Alex” Nelson.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.