Kenneth David Nibali, a former top administrator at the Social Security Administration, died of leukemia April 4 at his home in West Friendship. He was 69.
Mr. Nibali worked for the Social Security Administration for 30 years before retiring as associate commissioner of the Office of Disability in 2002. Friends and family described him as a funny, on-the-go optimist.
"He had a big impact on just about everyone he was ever involved with," said Bob Marchegiano, a longtime friend and travel companion. "He was adventurous, he could make any activity fun. He had a knack for putting a positive spin on any kind of situation, no matter how bad it could be."
Mr. Nibali was born in Baltimore and grew up in Middle River and Catonsville. He was the third of nine children born to Sydney Nibali, the director of health insurance systems for the SSA, and Marjorie Wright Nibali, a homemaker.
At Catonsville High School, Mr. Nibali competed in tennis, soccer, track and cross country. He graduated in 1965, and he and a friend set off to hitchhike across the country.
The trip was a "defining experience" for Mr. Nibali, said his wife, Ellen Nibali, a horticultural consultant for the University of Maryland Extension who also writes a gardening column for The Baltimore Sun.
The young men stayed in strangers' homes and worked random jobs to make money.
"It's not hard to see the United States, and it's not hard to see that there are so many wonderful people out there, and all you've got to do is get out and go," she said. "It gave him a lot of confidence."
Mr. Nibali majored in economics at Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College. He was captain of the varsity soccer team and a member of Gamma Beta Xi; he also started a rock band. He graduated in 1969 and then earned a law degree from the University of Maryland in 1978.
Also in 1969, he married the former Ellen Amelia Cook. The two lived in Woodlawn before moving in 1977 to West Friendship, where they remained. The couple were active in the neighborhood, with Mr. Nibali becoming known for his Fourth of July fireworks displays.
Lisa Peklo, a longtime neighbor, said the families in the neighborhood were tightly knit in the 1970s and 1980s, and that Mr. Nibali would often think of fun things to do for the children in the area, such as driving them around the rural area in the back of an El Camino for trick-or-treating on Halloween.
"He was the fun dad, always gathering all the kids with adventures and excitement," Mrs. Peklo said. "He was a really larger-than-life kind of guy."
Mr. Nibali was also active with the Western Howard County Youth Soccer League and served as a Webelos Cub Scout leader and a West River Sailing Camp counselor.
After working for a couple of years for Montgomery Ward, Mr. Nibali went to work for the SSA, where many of his family members also worked.
Mrs. Nibali said he worked in the equal opportunity and policy offices before ending up in the disability office. He was very dedicated to his work, she said.
"He would come home and eat dinner with a stack of papers and work through them all evening long, and he did that for years," she said. "These people really feel like they're civil servants, public servants. They take a tremendous amount of pride in that."
Mr. Nibali retired from the SSA in 2002 and became a consultant. He also served as a Howard County Board of Elections chief judge and volunteered at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. He and his wife also started a book publishing company, Fairland Books, to publish and promote her children's books.
In retirement, he renovated his childhood home and a waterfront cottage near the Chesapeake Bay. He enjoyed sailing and boating on Stoney Creek and the Patapsco River.
A world traveler, Mr. Nibali traveled all over Europe, met the Masai people in Africa and walked the Great Wall of China.
Mr. Nibali also visited Castell'Umberto, a Sicilian town where his paternal grandparents had lived. The group he was with wandered the town, stumbling upon a small restaurant called Nibalis, Mr. Marchegiano said.
The owners turned out not to be related to Mr. Nibali, but they opened up the bar for the group so they could have a drink.
"That just made the whole trip for Ken," Mr. Marchegiano said. "How often could something like that happen?"
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Louis Catholic Church in Clarksville.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Nibali is survived by his three children, Jennifer May of Highland, Benjamin Nibali of Maryville, Tenn., and Vincent Nibali of Baltimore; seven siblings, Mike Nibali of Ellicott City, Diane Eney of Finksburg, Rich Nibali of Elliott City, Barb Nibali of Ellicott City, Phil Nibali of Baltimore, Jim Nibali of Reisterstown, and Jeff Nibali of Ellicott City; and four grandchildren.