Nina Sigríður Duggan was born in New York, but in outlook and attitude, she is as Icelandic as they come. In New York, she grew up with her mother’s friends, who were all Icelandic women. During Nina’s early years, she also traveled to Iceland with her mother when Nina’s dad, a US Navy officer was on overseas missions.
Every year the family attended events sponsored by the Icelandic Association of New York, especially the picnics that featured accordion playing and dancing. During her childhood visits to Iceland, Nina became fascinated with the instrument when listening to her Afi play. She understood from an early age that accordion was an important instrument in Icelandic culture and eventually learned to play it. At age 11, she visited her Afi who by then lived in a home for the blind in Reykjavik. Thinking that she was only going to play for her Afi and make him proud of her skills, she ended up nervously playing for the entire home.
Artistic skills run in Nina’s family. Her mother, Ástríður María Jóhannesdóttir came to the US in 1945 to study painting at the Art Students League in New York City. She arrived without knowing anyone and had to teach herself English. After completing her art course at ASL she worked as an au pair for a couple who owned a German restaurant on the Upper East Side of NYC, a neighborhood where she also found a small group of Icelandic women who would become lifelong friends. On one occasion, a New Yorker in Navy uniform came in to the restaurant for a cup of coffee before leaving for an overseas posting. He became impressed with the young woman he met at the restaurant and tried to reconnect with her on his return. However, the restaurant was closed that day because the family was celebrating Easter. As he was about to leave, the owner noticed him and invited him in to join the party. There he got reacquainted with Nina’s mother. They got married, settled in New York and had two children. One of the children was born in 1952 and named Nina Sigríður.
Nina grew up and went to college in New York. During summers, she worked part time and saved enough money to visit her extended family in Iceland whenever she could. This also gave her the opportunity to brush up on her Icelandic language skills, which she proudly pronounced to the interviewer, were quite good then. In 1980, at the age of 28, Nina moved to Virginia where she had two close Icelandic friends and cousins. At a party in 1981, they introduced her to a middle-aged couple who mentioned an unmarried son. When they mentioned his age, her first reaction was that he was too young for her. But, as she notes, they met, and that part of the story ends with her marriage to Edmond Duggan. They have two children, who are now in their thirties, Kristín Ástríður and Spencer Ian.
Nina spent most of her working life in the health care industry as hospital Patient Accounts Director and Director of Billing Operations for a large anesthesia practice. Her ties to the Icelandic community remained strong. Shortly after her move to Virginia, her parents followed. There, Nina and her mother became deeply involved with the activities of the Icelandic Association of Washington DC (IAWDC), selling raffle tickets at Þorrablót and helping out in the kitchen during bazaars. Her circle of friends includes numerous IAWDC members.
Nina’s two children are now married and in their thirties. Although they were born and bred in the US. Nina made sure they kept in touch with their Icelandic heritage through regular visits during their youth. She has 16 first cousins in Iceland who all have children and grandchildren. She proudly notes that her own children have developed close relationships with their Icelandic cousins.
Nina recounts, with a chuckle, that on one of these brief visits, she advised her teenage daughter not to get too deeply involved with Icelandic boys. A day or two later she stopped at a gas station in Keflavík in the company of her children and a cousin. As Nina was paying for the gas inside the station, she saw her cousin waving and pointing frantically from the car. When her daughter asked what was going on, the cousin said, “Look, over there. That guy over at the pump is your mum’s old boyfriend from one of her long ago visits to Iceland”. Nina’s daughter gave her mother a reproachful look and said: “And YOU are advising ME not to get involved with Icelandic boys during MY visit!”.
Nina had just renewed her passport in 2020 before the COVID pandemic shut down travel between Iceland and the US. She is now ready and eager to make her way back to Iceland. On her bucket list is a trip to Hellissandur to visit her mother’s hometown and her Amma and Afi’s graves. Most of her Icelandic family now lives in Reykjavík, Kópavogur, Hafnarfjörður and Keflavík.