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The purpose of life, the American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson offered, “is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Nancy Bodeen, who died June 17 at age 89, surely, by that measure, lived a full and purposeful life.
Bodeen grew up in Winnetka, attended grade school at Hubbard Woods School and then New Trier High School and in 1950 graduated as president of her class at Pine Manor Junior College. From there she transferred to Northwestern University, where she met her husband, George, during an open house at Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. They were married on June 30, 1951. She graduated a year later with a BS in Education.
The birth of her first child in 1952 led to Nancy Bodeen becoming a pathfinder of sorts. She was asked by her doctor, Dr. Ernest Kimball, if she had breast milk she might donate to another patient whose infant was sick. Bodeen and other mothers at Evanston Hospital agreed to pump extra milk, which was then sterilized and delivered to the sick infant. That success led to the Junior League of Evanston creating the Evanston Hospital Milk Bank, which provided the milk for mothers who could not breast-feed. In previous decades, breast milk banks had typically purchased milk from lower income women, and the concept of relying on more affluent women who gave their milk as a gift was a new one. The project received worldwide recognition.
Throughout her life, Bodeen generated the same spirit of generosity through her volunteer efforts and leadership with many organizations. As her children entered Highcrest School in Wilmette, she became the president of the PTA. In 1973 she joined the Ravinia board, and eventually became the Chair of the Women’s Board from 1979-1982. She was a longstanding member of the Women's Board at Evanston Hospital and Northwestern University. She was a Life Trustee of Hadley School for the Blind; a Life Trustee of the Swedish American Museum; a member of the Swedish Council of America; a Life Trustee of the Chicago Theological Seminary; and on the board of the Junior League. Bodeen received the Distinguished Service Award from Northwestern University in 1987.
Nancy and George, who shared 64 years of marriage, also shared a deep devotion to the Chicago Botanic Garden and were members of The President's Circle, the preeminent donor community of the beloved institution. Among other gifts, they contributed to two graduate student work stations at the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center, which provides laboratories and teaching facilities for more than 200 Ph.D. scientists, land managers, students, and interns.
“Nancy and George were such fun, kind, and generous people,” said Vivienne Jones in a post on Legacy.com. “We had many a wonderful golf cart ride at the Chicago Botanic Garden.”
Blessed with many friends, Nancy Bodeen was “fiercely loyal,” her granddaughter Kristen Clerc Calhoun said at a memorial service July 20 at Glencoe Union Church.
“If she loved you, she defended you, no matter what.” She was equally loyal and loving to her grandchildren, said Calhoun, who fondly recalled playing “tea at the Ritz” with Nancy as a young child. “She always showed me how much she cared about me.”
Bodeen “had a lifelong love of the Chicago Cubs,” said daughter Debbie Bodeen, who recalled how her mother would pack coloring books and crayons and take the children on the L to Wrigley Field. While there, she taught them how to keep score in the program. To this day, she displayed a framed certificate showing her ownership of one share of Cubs stock during the time they were publicly owned. Debbie also vividly recalled the look on Nancy’s face as they won the World Series in 2016. ‘It was the look of pure joy.”
Nancy and George were members of the Glencoe Union Church since they moved to Glencoe in 1965. Together they ran Youth Fellowship at the church from 1971-1975 — a tenure recalled by Russell Leander. “They taught me the meaning of community and the enormous positive impact it can have on a teenager's life,” he said. “I have always been---and will always remain--grateful to this kind and wonderful woman.”
At Glencoe Union, Nancy Bodeen was a member of the church choir for many years. She was also a member of the Loblolly Singers, in Hobe Sound, Florida. The love of music was a gift she bestowed upon her children, said her son, Michael Bodeen at the memorial service. Whether it was tickets to see the Beatles in Comiskey Park in 1965, or Tony Bennett at Ravinia for the Tchaikovsky concert at the CSO or simply seeing her frequently singing throughout their home, “she was always inviting us to learn and experience music together.”
Nancy (Lindberg) Bodeen is survived by her four children, Debbie (Jeff Calhoun), Michael, Julie (Andy Phelps), and Susan; eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.