Maria Zielnik Kniffin, 96, of Canton passed away on February 19 at Twin Oaks Personal Care Home. Maria was born on February 2, 1924 and grew up in Lesquielles-St.-Germain, a village in northern France. She attended the village school and later a boarding school, and was certified as a teacher upon completing her education. World War II was already well underway, and Maria was in Germany in May, 1945 where she had been hired to make lists of foreign workers repatriated by the Americans. There she met a soldier from Canton, Nelson Kniffin. They kept in touch after she returned to France and were married in her hometown in December of that year.
In July 1946 Maria rejoined Nelson in Germany, where he was a civilian employee with the American Military Government. They returned to Canton in May 1948 with their year-old daughter, Mary-Ann. Their son Alan was born that year in September. After Nelson graduated from Penn State in 1952, he was hired by Union Carbide and the family, now including daughter Josette, moved to West Virginia. In 1955 Nelson was transferred to New York City and the family moved to Long Island where three more daughters were born (Jacqueline, Anneliese, and Nicole). In 1980 they moved to Carmel, NY. During the years she lived in Carmel, Maria was a volunteer at the Putnam Hospital Center, working first as a patient escort and then in the hospital gift shop.
Following Nelson’s sudden death in May 1984, Maria moved to Canton in 1986 and resided on North Minnequa Avenue for 32 years. Maria was a member of St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Canton and devoted much of her time to volunteer work with the Canton Senior Center and the Village Improvement Association (VIA) where she was named Woman of the Year in 2007. She moved to Twin Oaks in 2018 where, following a brief illness, she passed away peacefully on February 19.
Maria is survived by her six children: Mary-Ann Reese, Alan (Cheryl), Josette Bender (Harry), Jacqueline Zangari (Thomas), Anneliese Savchak (Michael), and Nicole Billington (Jamie), as well as 10 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren, and was preceded in death by a granddaughter and a great-grandson. She also maintained a 70-year-long correspondence with her godson in France, Serge Fontaine. She will be remembered for her generous spirit, and as a loving mother and meticulous homemaker. Maria took pride in her appearance and was always stylishly dressed and accessorized.
True to her French heritage, she was a gifted cook and baker who served her family traditional French dishes and home-baked breads and pastries. She was a talented knitter and seamstress, a voracious reader, spoke three languages, enjoyed gardening, and cared for a series of stray cats over many years.
There will be a visitation at Morse-Kleese Funeral Home in Canton on Tuesday, February 25 from 9:00-10:30 AM, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at St. Michael’s Church in Canton.
Maria will repose alongside her beloved Nelson at Park Cemetery in Canton.
Maria’s family would like to extend our deepest thanks to the staff of Twin Oaks, Guthrie Hospice, and the many friends who visited and provided comfort to her in her last weeks.
Donations may be made to the Animal Care Sanctuary of East Smithfield PA (353 Sanctuary Hill Lane, East Smithfield, PA 18817); the Damian Dutton Leprosy Aid Society (616 Bedford Avenue, Bellmore, NY 11710); or Guthrie Hospice (421 Tomahawk Rd, Towanda, PA 18848
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