ALLOUEZ — If there’s ever a time you don’t see a smile on Nancy Spiegelhoff’s face, then it’s probably been replaced by a look of determination. Her life has come somewhat full-circle: for 15 years she joyously served as activity director at the McCormick Assisted Living. Two years ago she moved in as a resident.
Born and raised in Racine, she proudly boasts she is a product of a Racine Dominican education, elementary school through college. She majored in education and taught public elementary school in Kenosha for five years. Her minor in French would come in handy two years into her teaching career when she experienced the adventure of a lifetime, sailing across the Atlantic with a tour group for a summer-long trip throughout Europe.
Two years ago, the always active Spiegelhoff realized she couldn’t live alone anymore.
Her five surviving children all live out of the area. “‘What does your heart tell you? We want what you want,’” she recalled her daughter saying. “I want McCormick,” Spiegelhoff told her. “‘Then McCormick it is,’” responded her daughter.
For Spiegelhoff, McCormick Home, now owned and operated by St. Paul Elder Services, Inc., in Kaukauna, is like a warm hug, a place where she can share her compassion that is often lived out through the passion she has for writing.
Spiegelhoff has founded a writers group at McCormick Home, and recently penned a touching story on love for Valentine’s Day she entitled, “The Other Four-Lettered Word.” It speaks to the relationship her entire family has had for decades with their special-needs friend Basil, now 82. She was his legal guardian and, as she writes, “His captivating smile will tug at your heart strings.” She will publicly read the story for the first time Feb. 13 at a literacy gathering with residents and members of the Altrusa Club of Green Bay.
“I do a lot of writing most every day. … I love writing notes. It keeps me in the loop with feelings and relationships,” she said.
She does all this in spite of the fact that at age 27 she suffered a stroke during her first pregnancy, leaving her left side numb and left hand unusable. “Hope” would be stillborn and the doctor insisted she deliver it naturally: it took 10 months until she went into labor. “It was my first baby. The stillness of having her in my womb was devastating,” she said.
She would have six more children: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Jana and Jill. And as she writes in a story about Hope that will be included in the book she and her daughter Jill are working on, “Where there is life there is hope.”
The family moved from southern Wisconsin to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in 1973, then to Green Bay in 1976. They joined St. Matthew Parish in Allouez, where she served on the worship committee for 10 years.
The parish would be a support when she faced the unexpected: two years after moving to Green Bay her husband left her. All six children were minors and she was a stay-at-home mother. It was “tumultuous,” but Spiegelhoff said she “gritted up and we made it through.” She was granted an annulment, something that was important to her.
It was 1986 when a friend told her about a job that “‘is made for you,’” she recalled, and she became activity director at McCormick Home until 2001. “I made a whole new world for myself and the kids just flourished,” she said. All are college graduates.
Spiegelhoff has also been active at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Ecumenical Center (now the Richard Mauthe Center), where she helped plan liturgies. But it was at St. Joseph Parish on Green Bay’s west side that she found her parish home.
“It reminded me of my grade school era,” she said. She was a lector and became passionate about Love Life, which assists low-income mothers with basic baby needs and has expanded to offering a reading program. “I did all the thank-you notes for it because that was my thing,” she said.
When Spiegelhoff arrived as a resident at McCormick Home, she said she was in “total grief.” Just six months earlier she had lost her son John in a motorcycle accident.
Every life has a story, and as people age the losses become many, she said.
“It’s a trust game, all of life. … We need to trust in the Lord that his is the perfect plan for me,” she said. Just surrender and let go, she advised, and there is a peace that will come. Today, she has taken on the role of evangelizer and encourager at McCormick Home, especially nudging new residents to get involved in the faith life activities there.
She advises people “to gift” their stories to family and to write them down if they can. “When we die our stories die and that’s not good. Every story is a treasure,” she said. “How do you know that great-grandchild might not thrill to your story?”