ROCHELLE — Those that knew Nancy Babb describe her as a collector, avid historian, beloved church member and a teacher who genuinely cared for children — making a lasting impression on those lives she touched. Her final gift to several organizations ensures that legacy will carry on.
As trustees of Babb’s estate, Sally Sawicki and Dianne Jenner, presented the Flagg Township Historical Society with a check for over $88,000 last week. The FTHS is just one of seven beneficiaries on the receiving end of her generosity totaling over $444,000.
Janet Stocking, FTHS president, said the money will go into a building fund, although a decision has not been determined on another location at this point.
“There have been discussions of needing more storage and display space,” said Jan Devore, Flagg Township Museum Assistant Director. “Ultimately it is the board’s decision … I am sure they will do their due diligence and decide what is best.”
Babb spent time volunteering at the museum, helping with the Spooky Flashlight tours, ice cream socials, school tours and Christmas activities and many of the things she enjoyed collecting are situated on all three levels.
“Nancy’s most extensive collections were of Rochelle — advertising items, spoons, post cards, milk bottles and anything related to the city,” Sawicki said. “For the most part, these are now all in the museum.”
Last year Babb’s collections were displayed in the Cabinet of Curiosities on the main level. In her collection, close to 70 different business promotional items took visitors for a walk down memory lane of past businesses and events. Dog ‘N Suds, Kroll Oil and Tire, Green Shutter Restaurant, Price’s Flowers and Snow’s Electrical Service are just to name a few.
Babb’s love of collecting spanned across the gamut, with many sharing a historical aspect. Memorabilia and documents from her alma maters along with postcards and advertising items now have a permanent home in historical societies where they will be treasured for years to come.
“She collected many things, but all seemed related to history. At her request, artifacts and history related to her genealogy studies were sent to the county in Pennsylvania or Tennessee,” Sawicki said. “These included sterling spoons dating from the mid 1800s used by a grandmother on her mom’s side, and marriage certificates and photos of many ancestors. The historical societies were pleased to add her research to their collections.”
Over 400 items including cookbooks, newspaper clippings, theater programs and other documents, were given to the Regional History Center at Northern Illinois University.
Babb’s mother, Priscilla Carpenter Babb, is one of the few published female poets in the state.
“She saved her mom’s diploma and class schedules from Illinois State University (ISU), as well as rough drafts of her mom’s poetry,” Sawicki said. “Her works, diploma, published works, photos and teaching certificates are now in Springfield at the Lincoln Library.”
After graduating ISU Bloomington, Normal in 1964, Babb began teaching kindergarten at Tilton School that fall where she continued until 2001. She worked at a department store to earn social security and Medicare benefits before returning to the elementary district in 2006 until 2010 as an aid for the district’s library.
She was active in the Vince Carney Community Theater, not only on stage but also behind the scenes and as an usher. She also performed in the community’s summer choir and became a board member for the FTHS. This also included her countless hours volunteering at the museum.
Before her passing in 2016, Babb approached Sawicki and Jenner, asking if they would be trustees of her estate. The last living relative had been a sister, living in Peoria having had disabilities. Sawicki said they were asked to handle her possessions and use the assets for her sister’s living expenses. Babb’s sister, Martha, died last September.
Since then, Sawicki and Jenner have been sorting through all of the items Babb had saved, documented and logged in detail.
“By cleaning out Nancy’s things I received an education. She was still teaching … things that I’ve routinely discarded I looked at a second time,” Sawicki reflected. “Advertising giveaways are historically significant. Documents like contracts and even receipts may be desired by a historical group. Thanks to the work I did for Nancy, I became much more active with the museum and a contributor, though not to the degree she was. I’ve been asked and accepted to take her place in leading school group tours.”
Sawicki also knew her friend to be hard-working, earning everything on her own.
“Nancy never got a free ride. She paid her way through school … She bought her house, her car, and all of her collections by carefully managing her income. She cared for her sister. And she still had nearly a half a million dollars to give away.”
One of the other beneficiaries is the church she held near and dear to her heart, receiving just over $133,000.
“Nancy Babb was a long-time beloved member of the church who cared deeply for children and had a deep passion for a Christian education for all ages,” said RUMC Pastor Rob Hamilton. “Nancy’s generous gift will be placed in the Endowment Fund as a memorial to Nancy to be used over time as closely as possible to her wishes for the Sunday School and Hicks Hall as a lasting legacy to her life’s passions.”
Jenner reflected on her friend, echoing Sawicki’s comments on Babb’s determination and drive.
“Nancy did everything herself … no monetary help from others. She not only taught elementary school but also ran the church Sunday school for years and sang in the church choir,” Jenner said. “She loved teaching and loved history and cooking. Nancy had the foresight to save things that others thought of as junk.”
The beneficiaries include the Flagg Township Historical Society, Rochelle United Methodist Church, David Crawford Foundation, Delta Kappa Gamma (sorority for professional educators), Illinois State University Foundation, OSF Healthcare Foundation (The Pepe Cancer Center) and Rochelle Community Hospital Foundation.