Grace Celia Hooper -- 1921-2004

Thank you for joining us today to recall and celebrate a life well lived. “Grace” is both who and what we honor as we remember Grace Celia Hooper.

Grace was the second of two daughters born to Ruth and Hedley Shepherd. Mr. Shepherd was the son of a Methodist minister from Oxfordshire. It was not Methodism’s Grace, but rather her Aunts that gave Grace her names -- Aunt Grace on her Mother’s side, and Celia, or “Sis” on her Father’s side.

Grace was born in Ottumwa, Iowa, but the family moved around the midwest as Mr. Shepherd held various positions for what was then called the National Lead Company.

Grace and her sister Louise graduated from Benson High School in Omaha. Benson is one of the oldest high schools in Nebraska and is now celebrating its 100th anniversary. Benson’s teams were -- and still are -- called the “Bunnies.” It’s important to know that before I say that Grace was a top competitive debater for the Bunnies.

Grace’s intelligence, organization, and people-skills were conspicuous, even then. She was valedictorian and president of her high school class -- no small feat for a girl in that day and age.

After high school, the Shepherds moved to Minnesota, and Grace enrolled at the University of Minnesota. She was an outstanding student of nutrition in the Home Economics department on the St. Paul farm campus. She was tapped for Mortar Board, a national honor society which recognizes college seniors for distinguished ability and achievement in scholarship, leadership, and service. Mortar Board began in 1918 as the first national organization honoring senior college women. The Society would finally open its membership to men in 1975, the year Grace’s second daughter graduated from college.

These days some people might write off Home Ec as a frivolous academic subject, but at that time, there were limited opportunities for women in science, and Home Ec departments were among the few places where young women were welcome to train in the hard sciences, including physiology, chemistry, and microbiology.

It was actually in a zoology laboratory that Grace met her lifelong mate. Frank was a teaching assistant, and the story goes that the male teaching assistants privately conspired to grade the young ladies on their looks. Although Frank may deny it now, all of his daughters distinctly remember him saying that it was Grace’s ankles --as well as her grades -- that first caught his attention.


Grace and Frank dated and were engaged, but World War II was on and Frank was off to train in meteorology for the Army Air Corps. The couple were married in St. Paul on April 3, 1942, while Frank was on an extended weekend pass.

During the war and as Frank was pursuing graduate studies at the University of Minnesota, Grace worked for the Dairy Council. One of her contributions to the war effort was showing women how to cook nutritious meals, despite war rationing of staples like milk, eggs, meat, and butter. Grace also lectured in schools, and her daughters recall stories of how she would demonstrate the benefits of a healthy diet using a scraggly, apathetic white rat raised on coca-cola and candy, and a lustrous, robust rat raised on milk and other healthy foods.

Grace proudly continued to cultivate her interests in home economics and her homemaking skills. During summers in Northern Michigan her sewing table or quilting hoop were permanent fixtures in the living room. Her favorite reading tended to be cookbooks. She was an excellent cook. She remained involved in nutrition and cooking groups and later would deliver Motor Meals to shut-ins with her sister Louise.

Frank and Grace moved to Ann Arbor in 1948, just before their first daughter, Frances Ruth, was born. Following the tradition that gave Grace her names, Frannie got her first name from Frank’s mother, and her middle name from Grace’s mother. Four years later, Celia Ann -- generally called “Cecie” -- arrived, and was given Grace’s middle name, because everyone liked it. Another four years passed and Carol Elizabeth arrived in December, 1957, with her name reflecting the season of Christmas Carols.

The girls were welcomed into a small but close extended family. Frank’s brother, Emmett, and his wife, Helen, lived a few blocks away with their sons Alan and Kim. Both Frank and Grace’s parents moved to Ann Arbor to be close.

After serving in Europe in the Red Cross during the war, Grace’s sister Louise also moved here. Grace and Louise were always very close. In fact, Frank and Grace introduced Louise to Frank’s friend, Robert Storer. This matchmaking got a nudge from a young Frannie who loudly asked Bob, “Are you Aunnie’s boyfriend?” when the pair were on a Sunday morning picnic at Silver Lake. When Bob allowed as how he supposed he was, Frannie helpfully pointed out, “Oh Goody, then you and Aunnie can get married!” -- which they did.

From the time Louise moved to Ann Arbor, until she died in 1992, the sisters would talk each day on the phone, whenever they were in town, and each had the same nickname for the other-- “Duck.” After Louise died, Grace became something of a substitute grandmother -- and role model -- to Louise’s grandchildren, Bobby, and especially Annie, who now shines with the light of both Louise and Grace’s beauty, effervescence, intelligence, and spirit. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

At various times during her 56 years in Ann Arbor, Grace was active in square dancing, “Fish Wives”, Book Review Club, International Neighbors, and the Visiting Nurses Association. She led the VNA’s board during a difficult time as the Washtenaw County and Ann Arbor Organizations were merged. She was a member of the U of M Faculty Women’s Club and First United Methodist Church.

Grace’ people-skills made her comfortable talking to anyone -- probably because she was such a good listener. She naturally put people at ease. She was a wonderful friend and gracious hostess, often filling her Thanksgiving table with not just family, but also friends, students, and kids’ friends and acquaintances who were away from home over the holidays. The annual “hunt dinners” were alternately hosted by Grace and Frank and their dear friends, including the Laglers, Evans, Baileys, Dawsons, Tacks, Coopers, Hairstens, Balls, Elliots, and Emmett and Helen Hooper.

In the years when the hunters faired poorly, the Hunt dinners were more a celebration of friendship and culinary creativity, as the cooks were challenged to stretch small amounts of game to feed all the hunters and wives. One year all Grace had to work with was one tiny woodcock, which she whipped into what probably would have been a delicious paté. Unfortunately, the only one to taste the appetizer was Tobit, the family beagle, who snarfed the entire paté off a coffee table as Grace greeted the first guests at the door.

Grace and Frank had some extraordinary enduring friendships. During the summers when their daughters were growing up, the Hoopers lived in a large log cabin with the Balls, as Frank and Bob Ball collaborated on aquatic research in Northern Michigan. This might have been summers of hell for normal mortals, but Betty Ball and Grace somehow ran the household seamlessly and harmoniously, leaving the girls, including Bunny and Sue Ball, with fond memories of summer vacations picking blueberries, deer-watching, and floating on inner tubes in the Pigeon River as their Dads pioneered theories about stream ecology.

Other close friendships with Ginny and Bill Dawson would lead to another shared North Woods cabin, although the cabin on Langford Lake, in the Upper Peninsula was generally split up between the families for the weeks of the summer.

Friends Lou and Del Elliot became “Aunt Lou” and “Uncle Del” to the Hooper kids. The friendship with the Elliots was part of what lured Frank and Grace to explore South Florida for a vacation spot. The vacation spot in Bonita Springs became their winter home when Frank retired. But I’m getting ahead of the story again.

Household efficiency was one of Grace’s talents. Before each school year, Grace would assemble piles of ingredients for sandwiches and help her daughters make, wrap, and freeze enough chipped beef, cream cheese, and olive sandwiches to last the entire semester. She taught her girls to wrap sandwiches in the most hygienic, economical way, which she had learned in her time as a professional food scientist.

Once the girls were all in school, Grace did some part-time secretarial work in the Physiology department at the U of M. This added to the family income, but Grace’s main financial contribution to the household came from her remarkable talent for pinching pennies. Grace truly mastered the “economics” part of her beloved Home Ec. She was the family bookkeeper and tax accountant.

In another age, a woman as bright, energetic, and talented as Grace might have shattered glass ceilings and become a creative contributor to the world beyond her home. The success of Grace’s daughters--who collectively hold nine degrees, three jobs, five houses, one trailer, three awesome boys, two fantastic husbands (and one superb boyfriend) -- testifies to that. But her daughters’ achievements -- as well as Frank’s successful career -- also testify to the main work of Grace’s life -- love and care for her family. This was Grace’s shining core.

She read to her kids. She drove them to Brownies, 4-H, Epworth Junior Choir, and Camp Fire Girls. She led endless rounds of family singing “Oh Tell me Why,” “I’ve been working on the Railroad”, and “I’ve got SixPence.” She doled out lifesavers to reward her children for not killing one another during family vacations driving to Florida. She taught the girls that when they visited some place, they should be considerate guests and leave the place in better shape than they found it. It was gently made clear that this was the expectations for our lives, too -- that, either through our care for a family, or our careers, we were, like her, to leave the world a better place.

She wisely pretended she actually believed Carol was sick when she feigned illness to take a ‘mental health day’ off from high school. She corrected grammar. She brought a casserole to Cecie’s door once a week when she was a newlywed and frantically finishing her doctoral thesis. She kept secrets.

Carol this week revealed a confidence that Grace kept to her death. When Carol first took her driver’s test, she came to a corner and couldn't downshift the manual-transmission car. As a result, after stalling in the middle of an intersection, she flunked her test. Mortified, Carol asked her mother not to tell a soul, and she never did.

Grace and Frank had a close and very supportive relationship. She was the best one-woman support team anyone could ever want. She served Frank Metrical and later no-calorie jello birthday cakes during his annual New Year’s dieting. She picked aquatic insects out of the glop known as ‘benthos’ from the bottom of the streams Frank studied. Even before the dawn of the word-processor, she typed and edited Frank’s scientific proposals. She fed countless starving graduate students at evening seminars. She helped Frank and the girls find lost keys, papers, and other essentials. Her optimism and confidence that the glass was half-full was never daunted by Frank’s worst-case certainty that it was half empty.


Frank and Grace celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary -- and their first grandson’s first birthday -- with a vacation with all their kids on Chesapeake Bay in 1993. As her grandsons began arriving, Grace’s selfless love and patience extended to another generation. Sam, now 12, remembers his Grandma as “Really nice. She never got mad at anyone.” She even kept her sense of humor when Sam and Frank’s arms race in squirt gun battles escalated to the use of hoses and cutting off the household water supply.

After she had a stroke ten years ago, Grace mellowed a bit and the caretaker role began to fall more often to Frank. They increasingly relied on one another for a second set of eyes, ears, and memory. He would bring her orange juice in the morning. She would supply a forgotten name. The branches of these two trees that had grown so close together for more than six decades intermingled closely, supporting each other through literal and figurative storms. Grace and Frank had the good fortune to taste the fine wine of a time-tested, mature love.

In the last month of her life, Grace and Frank went to Washington, D.C. and spent Thanksgiving and Christmas visiting with Sam and Cecie, Frannie and Dennis, Carol, Roland, Sagenay, and Jean-Philippe. Cecie’s friend Dave was there, too, and was perhaps the last person to meet Grace, as he shared Thanksgiving with the family. At the age of 83, amidst the chaos of her girls’ busy lives, Grace appeared radiant to Dave. She exuded her hallmark sweetness and love, there amidst the fruits-- or maybe the nuts and fruits -- of her love. Hers was the glow, hers was the satisfaction, hers was the Grace of a life well lived.