Recently, after a two-year battle with cancer which she faced with uncommon grace, we lost a former colleague, Nancy Kirby, who taught journalism at North Central College for 20 years. She stabilized what had been an up-and-down program, turning it into a consistent award-winner. She helped me through a family tragedy and supported our work to help the poor and homeless. Below are some thoughts which will appear in different forms in several places which have asked for my remembrances.
Two of my strongest memories of Nancy Kirby.
1) For me the high point of Nancy Kirby’s work at the college was when she led 22 students in the production of a wonderful magazine called Naperville’s Neighbor, a project focused on Aurora, on service work done there by Cardinals in Action, Ministry and Service, Junior/Senior Scholars and the Pipeline to Urban Teaching, and especially Hesed House, Aurora’s main homeless shelter and food pantry, then—as now—being run by North Central College alum Ryan Dowd.
2) When my youngest son Bryan died in December 2006, Nancy Kirby and her daughter Megan brought us food made as part of a tradition of giving their family had carried on for years. That was special enough, but I’ll always remember how deeply genuine and relaxed their visit was, and how truly comforted we felt.
These two memories came together when Rick and Desiree Guzman (my oldest son and his wife) started Bryan House as a living memorial to Bryan. Bryan House (now part of a much bigger program called Emmanuel House, after Bryan’s middle name) works on housing and poverty issues for refugees and the working class poor. Nancy’s abiding interest in issues of homelessness, hunger and poverty drove the creation of the magazine project, and caused her to be a great support to our family’s new foundation. In fact, after she left the college and returned to writing, one of her first big freelance pieces was “Seeds of Change,” about my family’s long involvement in homeless issues, and about how me taking Rick to Hesed House as a young child planted the seeds which grew, in the midst of tragedy, into Bryan House and Emmanuel House.*
If this remembrance seems a little tangled, it’s because my memory of Nancy, her writing, her passion for service will forever be entwined with our memories of Bryan and our attempts to honor his life through serving in ways we know Nancy pursued with such purpose. She left me such a legacy.