Nadia Merzliakow, MLS ’74, retired director of the Office of International Affairs, a devoted staff member of Pratt Institute for 30 years, passed away on February 29, 2024. Born on March 19, 1935, she was less than one month shy of her 89th birthday.

Merzliakow joined Pratt in the Registrar’s Office in 1967 and served there for 10 years before transferring to a position in International Affairs, known at that time as the Office of International Student Affairs (OISA). In that role, she touched innumerable students’ lives, as a source of guidance, connection, and care who helped them navigate their new world at Pratt and celebrated their roots around the globe. She retired in 1997, saluted as “director extraordinaire” of OISA, and remained a fixture of Pratt’s Clinton Hill community.

A number of her former colleagues and students contributed the remembrances below, collected by Mia Schleifer, Associate Director of International Affairs.

Woman poses with sculpture outdoors on a sunny day
Nadia Merzliakow with a sculpture by Henry Moore

Alexander (Sasha) Zhornitskiy, BArch ’04, and Anna Azarova

Nadia departed from this world, leaving behind a legacy of warmth, kindness, and inspiration.

Born to noble parents who fled the tumult of the Russian Revolution of 1917, Nadia’s life was a testament to resilience and grace. Fluent in multiple languages and possessing an innate elegance, she carried herself with a dignity befitting her heritage.

Nadia served as an international student advisor, offering guidance and support to countless individuals who found solace in her nurturing presence. Despite her own journey through life’s challenges, Nadia’s door was always open, welcoming students with open arms and a comforting cup of tea.

Her culinary talents, inherited from her mother who served the affluent, brought joy to many. From her kitchen emerged delightful aromas and flavors that soothed weary souls and nourished hungry hearts. Nadia’s passion for food extended beyond her own table; she spearheaded the food fair at Pratt Institute, celebrating the diverse cultures and cuisines of its students.

Beyond her professional duties, Nadia’s personal connections enriched the lives of those around her. Whether sharing laughter over a birthday celebration or immersing herself in the beauty of opera, she cultivated meaningful relationships that transcended borders and generations.

Nadia’s generosity knew no bounds. As a matchmaker, she endeavored to connect others, weaving threads of friendship and love across continents. Her unwavering support and guidance endeared her to many, earning her a place in the hearts of all who had the privilege of knowing her.

In her later years, Nadia embraced her artistic talents, finding joy in painting watercolors and sharing her creations with the community. Her vibrant spirit illuminated every room she entered, leaving behind a legacy of love and creativity that will endure for generations to come.

As we bid farewell to Nadia, we take solace in the memories we shared and the impact she had on our lives. Though she may no longer walk among us, her spirit will live on in the hearts of all who were touched by her kindness and grace.

Woman smiles, knitting in hand, in front of iron fence with knit scarves on display
Nadia Merzliakow was a fixture in Pratt’s Clinton Hill neighborhood. Photo by Cristina Dueñas

Judy Nylen, longtime director of career services

In the early ’90s, Nadia, my daughter, and I took a trip to the Galapagos—a fantastic experience enhanced by Nadia’s worldly knowledge and bilingual abilities.

My office in the Center for Student Resources at the time was directly next to hers so I can attest to the huge number of students who filled her doorway, the trips to the airport to rescue a student who lost their I-20, and the vast number of times we cooked together on occasions that honored students. Nadia was, as everyone has said, a big, generous, vibrant heart who gave unconditionally. She was also a celebrity in the Clinton Hill community known by everyone. We joke about how long it took for her to get to work from her house three blocks from campus because she stopped every few steps to talk to people she knew . . . not just a quick hello but a conversation. 

My consistent memory is her joyous greeting!

Woman smiling reading a card decorated with bright, colorful flowers

Amit Jakubovicz, MFA Fine Arts ’84

Nadia was so much fun to be around. She loved cooking and having her “1, 2, 3” dinners for and with many of us.

I remember how she, along with Father Perry, would gather the many international students for Thanksgiving feasts, with many of us volunteering to help with cooking different foods and desserts. 

Also, she loved organizing International Students Day, where many had booths and foods of their countries. Food brought us all together in celebration, and [gave] comfort for homesickness and [a chance] to share our diverse backgrounds.

I will miss her warmth and ever-encouraging words. She loved people, and her animals, of course. She loved all her students, for whom she always had a helping hand.

She truly was an angel among us and she will be missed.

Woman in red suit poses with bride and groom, all smiling
Nadia Merzliakow at the wedding of Cristina Dueñas and Peter Kvietok

Cristina Dueñas, MFA Fine Arts ’82

So much can be said about the love Nadia gave to us. She touched our souls with her great generosity, she gave us her time, her wise advice, and she was a mother to all the international students that got to meet her. Jerome (Olabanji “Banji” Awosika, BArch ’81)—her “first son,” as she and all of us called him—and we, the other children, are so proud of her. She transmitted to us her knowledge and also her kindness. 

There is so much to say about her, so many anecdotes of our times going with her to museums or concerts or so many gatherings in the neighborhood. The special celebrations with Father Perry, Easter, Thanksgiving, the Indian celebration of light, at the Pratt House, the Orthodox Christmas, and the Catholic Christmas celebration.

Nadia is godmother to our first daughter, Frances Julia, she was her first babysitter, and our second daughter’s name is Andrea Nadia. Peter and I visited Nadia while we were in New York this past July. We feel that we were very fortunate that we got to see her once more in these past years.

Here in Mozambique, where we live now, we had a very special Orthodox and also a Catholic ceremony for the souls for her [after she passed away]. Nadia was present here in this continent. We really felt her presence here when the priests pronounced her name.

Four friends of different generations pose at a diner table
Left to right: Bernie Yap, Nadia Merzliakow, Amit Jakubovicz, and Jerome (Olabanji) Awosika having lunch at a corner restaurant in September 2017

Bernie Yap, BEME ’83, MS Computer and Decision Science ’84, former director of data communications and networking

A mix of happy and sad emotions still comes over me whenever I think of Nadia. This is because she’s been a second mother to me since I started at Pratt back in the early months of 1980.

I still recall the words my mom said to Nadia before her flight back to my home country: “Nadia, I now leave my son with you, please take care of him.” But I am sure that those words are not just from my mom but from ALL international students’ parents who’ve met Nadia and left their child or children in her care.

Coming to this country then, and after my mom left, I felt so alone, anxious, nervous, and very ill-prepared for the independence and experience of adulthood and college life away from family, relatives, and close friends. And Nadia saw that instantly, not just in me, but also in all of the other young international students who were accepted at Pratt.

At 40-something, she managed me/us with confidence, as if she was Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music! She had me/us mingling with others (parties at the Pratt House), joining organizations (Asian Students Club, of course), and participating in other activities/events/gatherings/shindigs (socials, in today’s lingo) such as table tennis matches, NYC tours, trips to Philly, and others. Nadia also introduced me to Father Perry, who kept me rooted spiritually and involved in Sunday masses at the chapel. Next was to Judy Nylen, who got me my first job and all my other jobs at Pratt and around the community! Nadia’s “motherly” guidance also helped me through my ups and downs, building confidence in job interviews, relationships and heartbreaks, and graduations! I also recall apartment- and dog/cat-sitting/walking for her when she went away for short vacations during the summers. She also introduced me to figs (freshly picked from one of her Brooklyn neighbors’ front yard) which I now love, and even have my very own plants to remember her by.

My wife and I were so honored when Nadia became our godmother at our wedding. Even though I left Pratt a few years after, I took jobs in and around Manhattan and stayed connected with Nadia, visiting her often at Pratt or in her apartment on Greene Avenue. When at her apartment, she always made meals for me (with her two Yorkies) while chatting about her past travels or future travel plans. Life continued, and before the end of the ’90s, Nadia announced her retirement and also went on to take up drawing, sketching, and painting as a hobby. I recalled her art-show debut, when most of her international students flew in from all over to be part of the event and celebration. We all felt Nadia’s achievement as she felt ours when we all graduated with our degrees.

A decade later, when Tatiana [Nadia’s goddaughter] announced that Nadia was diagnosed with dementia, we all knew and felt that it was our turn to jointly care for Nadia. With Tatiana’s blessing, we formed a small group composed of ex-international students and alums who are now residing all over the world, neighbors and friends, some of her relatives, and colleagues from the Pratt community. We would share news of Nadia’s status and well-being, arrange visits and get-togethers to cheer her up, and chat with her when she was feeling gloomy.

Now that Nadia is in heaven watching over all of us, I hope that we aspire to pay forward her kindness, generosity, and motherly love. We can continue her legacy by being a friend, a mentor, a sibling, and/or a parent to someone in need. And I hope that someday we will have inspired others to be like Nadia.

College graduates surrounded by parents and staff
Father Michael Perry with Nadia Merzliakow (fifth and sixth from left) with (left to right) Bernie Yap’s parents; Bernie Yap and his younger brother Constantino, BEEE ’84; and Betty Pua, MS Interior Design ’84

Father Michael Perry, chaplain of Pratt Institute 1973–1996 

So for about five years, on the Monday of Thanksgiving week, Nadia and I would get married, and by Wednesday we were in the throes of a terrible divorce. I was the dutiful husband who did the driving and Nadia was the frivolous wife who did the shopping. Like the year she decided that we should get two pies from a bakery on Lexington Avenue in the 70s in Manhattan—the day before Thanksgiving, which is the worst day for traffic in Manhattan—and when she came out of the bakery, she had a little apple tart for me that she almost got to wear. But they were good apple pies. I learned after the first year that if I was going to do this again, the best place for me was in the kitchen in the Pratt house; way in the back, doing dishes, and staying out of the way. Nadia was in her glory. She had a right to be, and I was in mine, staying out of trouble!

Nadia and I also hosted dinners in the faculty dining room for a couple of years, giving the students an opportunity to have conversations and eat off of real plates with real silverware. I think it may have been the first time we did it that Nadia came up to me in a very excited way and said that she had to go down to Myrtle Avenue because she had to get some “salmonella bread”!

No, Nadia, it was semolina bread that you wanted. Nadia was good at replacing one word with another and not ever hearing the difference, or letting it make a difference.

Nadia was perhaps the most generous person in the world, and all of us who knew her benefited from that generosity, not only of spirit but also of heart.

Do you remember her story of when she first came to America and was invited to someone’s home for dinner and her parents sent her out to buy some cookies to take with them? Nadia and her parents both loved animals, and so when she saw cookies shaped like bones with a picture of a dog on the box, there was no question that that’s what she was going to bring home.

Or how about the time that Nadia went to buy oranges? Nadia came to the Upper West Side. She saw more food than she had ever seen in her whole life having just come from war-torn Europe. When the man on Columbus Avenue asked her if she wanted juice oranges she started to cry because she thought he said Jews oranges, something that would never pass in her open spirit.

Drawing of woman in big-frame glasses and dress with red flowers smiling and waving. Signed Garrett Morlan
Drawing of Nadia Merzliakow by Garrett Morlan