Former Zionsville Resident Performs Brilliant Acts Later in Life
Writer / Rebecca Wood . Photos / JJ Kaplan
Nancy Clark sits with her regular companions at the Hooverwood Nursing Home dining room. Her pals, fellow octogenarians, are a spry bunch. They’ve ditched stereotypical nursing home attire, housecoats and slippers, in favor of more stylish garb.
Clark and her friends look a bit like they walked off a fashion shoot for an AARP magazine cover. Clark,84, is clad in a leopard print top with a matching leopard print hat. A flowing scarf is draped over her shoulders, and jewelry bedazzles her neck and wrists. Her classically beautiful features and steel-blue eyes are enhanced with bright shades of cosmetics.
If Hooverwood had a homecoming queen, Clark would easily win the nomination. She commands attention but not in an overpowering, drama-filled manner. Rather, her personality is so bold and vibrant that it spills out into a room and enhances the atmosphere.
A Zionsville resident for 30 years before settling into her new home at Hooverwood, Clark was a performer. Rumor has it that she danced with Ginger Rogers. Clark is tickled pink to dust off old memories and rehash long-forgotten tales.
She strolls back to her private room and slides into her leopard print armchair. She proudly shows off her space. The walls are the focal point, adorned with a collection of family portraits and images of her performing days. One picture stands out among the frames; it’s a photograph of a younger Clark cheek to cheek with an older Ginger Rogers.
The compilation of pictures speaks to Clark’s lengthy, illustrious career. But the walls lack images of perhaps her most rewarding performances that have arrived as of late and are still to come.
Born to Sing
Clark was born and raised in Homecroft, Indiana. From an early age, she was drawn to music and enjoyed playing the piano, singing in the church choir and performing in plays.
While at Southport High School, Clark excelled in music and acting. She proudly recalls writing the school hymn in 1948. After graduation, Clark was a voice major at Butler University and studied under Julius Huehn of New York’s Metropolitan Opera. During her years at Butler, Clark performed in countless productions and operas.
After graduation, she met Lee Clark. She confesses to falling in love right away and says the feelings were mutual. “Lee said ‘I loved you before I even met you,’” Clark recalls with tears in her eyes. The two were married just a few months later in Germany where Lee was stationed with the military.
The newly married couple settled into life in Germany. Clark continued to use her talents teaching music at an American school and organizing church choirs. After two plus years in Germany, the pair moved back to the United States and eventually settled down in Zionsville. They became parents to two children: Henry and Lisa.
Clark continued to perform locally in the likes of the Indianapolis Opera Company, Opera Theater of Indiana, the Indianapolis Civic Theater and Starlight Musicals. She was part of a group of singers who created the Bluebird Dinner Theater in Mooresville.
Performing with Ginger Rogers
Clark admits she never danced with Ginger Rogers, but she did work with the Hollywood legend in 1983. The two performed together in an Indianapolis production of “Miss Moffat.” Clark says they became friends during that time.
“Ginger Rogers was the most wonderful person I ever met,” Clark asserts. “Every Sunday we went to church together. We had wonderful talks. We talked about her most fascinating life.”
A framed Christmas card from Ginger Rogers with a personal inscription hangs on Clark’s wall. Clark has kept other letters written by her friend Ginger. “The last letter said, ‘We’ll always love each other,’” Clark says.
Clark moved into Hooverwood Nursing Home in June 2013. Lee, her husband of almost 60 years, also lives in Hooverwood in a different wing for Alzheimer’s patients. Clark tries to visit him daily.
Clark continues to embrace her love of music and performing in the nursing home. She created the Hooverwood Singers, a choir composed of nursing home residents.
Last summer, Clark proposed that the Hooverwood Singers perform at the Hooverwood Guild’s holiday luncheon. The Guild, a group of volunteers that sponsors events for the residents, agreed. Clark picked the song selection and created the show. For months, 20 residents attended weekly practices conducted by Clark.
Marc Penner, executive director at Hooverwood, says he enjoyed observing the practices. “I just stood sometimes and watched the talent. I was impressed with Nancy’s ability to lead, conduct and coordinate.”
Penner credits the weekly practices with giving the residents a sense of purpose, teamwork and camaraderie. In December, the Hooverwood Singers sang at the Guild’s luncheon and then at a separate performance for staff, residents, and family members. The Guild arranged for special music binders for the wheelchair performers. Clark made jingle bell bracelets for all the singers; she designed programs for the audience.
The shows consisted of Hanukkah songs, tunes from “Fiddler on the Roof” and Christmas carols. (Hooverwood Nursing Home is affiliated with the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, but the facility welcomes residents of all faiths.)
Lynn Davis, an administrative assistant for the Hooverwood Guild, says, “The performance was heartwarming for them and for us. She made the nursing home come alive.”
Penner adds, “It was so meaningful and special. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was giving a new face for the nursing home.”
Lisa Copp, Clark’s daughter, became emotional watching the performance. She says her mother received the biggest gratification from seeing the positive effects on the women from being part of a choir. “It gave them a great purpose and an opportunity to make a contribution again,” Copp said. “Mom tells me all the time about the interesting and accomplished lives of these women. I think Mom really wanted to give them more time in the spotlight.”
Hooverwood has requested an encore performance in the spring. Clark is currently working on creating that show. “In your mind, you don’t grow older if you can keep it alive and fresh,” Clark says. “If I can lift up just one person, it will all be worth it.”