“Nancy just seemed bigger than life and that she would live forever,” said our President/CEO Brook McDonald of Nancy Hopp, lifelong Aurora resident and Vice Chair of The Conservation Foundation’s Board of Trustees. We are all grieving and frankly still in shock at the news of her unexpected passing last week. I can’t quite accept that I won’t be checking her in at the registration table of our next event, won’t see her name in my email inbox anymore, won’t look out the office window this summer to a view of her sitting under a tree reading to our Summer Campers at McDonald Farm. Nancy poured so much passion and care into her Board service with The Conservation Foundation, and I know she bestowed that same thoughtful involvement in many other local organizations.
When I say Nancy was a lifelong resident of Aurora, I don’t just mean the town. She lived in the same home she was born in her entire 79 years of life! She grew up in the West Aurora school system, and stayed in her hometown for higher education as well, earning a BA in Social Sciences and her MS in Business Management from Aurora University. Her professional career focused mostly on marketing and communications in health care, but Nancy became an accomplished author as well, publishing Warm Light, Cool Shadows about renowned artist Ruth Van Sickle Ford, also an Aurora native. She was an avid fan and promoter of local illustrator Wendell Minor, and introduced many people, including me, to incredibly talented Aurora artists such as Cheryl Holz.
Nancy’s greatest love was of course her family: her late husband Jim, their son Tom and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But Nancy also held a deep love for the arts, for music, writing, painting and nature, and had a knack for recognizing sometimes unlikely or less than obvious connections between all of these passions and the people involved in them. Her ability to see those relationships and bring them to light resulted in some powerful collaborations and outcomes, such as our Art of the Fox program to bring awareness and love to the Fox River through the art of Joel Sheesley.
A classy lady of incredible energy, conviction and creativity, Nancy also had a playful and adventurous streak. She loved water skiing, road trips, and my girls still talk about swimming with her at a Board and Staff gathering, even though she was the only adult in the pool. When I think of Nancy, I think of a person who truly and deeply LIVED. She created, listened, savored, appreciated, let herself be moved by nature, history, the arts. I was always astounded by how she could be involved in so many different things at once, and also be so completely invested, tuned in and in the moment of whatever she was doing at any given time.
I consider Nancy my wordsmithing mentor (and I can wordsmith with the best of them). I’ll admit to a slight sinking feeling if I saw an email come through from Nancy after I’d just sent an eblast or released an issue of our Heron magazine, knowing if I’d misused a word or missed a typo, she’d catch it. More often than not, the message was to compliment and encourage me in my work, but even critiques were delivered graciously, and out of a sincere desire to help. Nancy knew taking the time to send those messages would make me a better writer and communicator, and therefore better illuminate the work of The Conservation Foundation, which she cared about so deeply. This is how she approached everything. Take the time, send the message, show up to the meeting, say the hard things (but always respectfully). That’s how you make a community, organization, relationship better, and that’s what Nancy did, time and again throughout her life.
I have been out of town helping family, missing Nancy’s Celebration of Life and late in getting this tribute out. But each night this past week when I finally laid down, fighting both exhaustion and guilt over not having the time to memorialize her properly, I could feel her urging me to take my time, to take my rest. Her story would be there waiting. In truth her story is still being lived out; Nancy WILL live forever in the work of the countless organizations and people she influenced and made better, including The Conservation Foundation. And including me.
Written by Jill Johnson, Communications Manager