COLUMBUS — From her desk, two elements are directly in Nancy Hoover’s line of sight: a portrait of late, local, wealthy industrialist J. Irwin Miller and a book on late, world-renowned architect Eero Saarinen.
Hoover’s newfound, part-time work as community ambassador of North Christian Church in Columbus partly involves highlighting the work of these two men who helped make the celebrated 1964 structure possible. Miller was a leader in the church at the time Saarinen began working with the congregation to design the circular edifice with the trademark, sky-high spire.
“I love this building,” Hoover said, seated in a bright orange Modernist chair that matches an artistic yellow and orange rug in her office that had long been unused. “It makes it so easy to go out into the community and talk to people about such a fantastic structure.”
Hoover, the 75-year-old retired teacher and collegiate dean and provost, is in her fifth month of spreading the good news throughout south-central Indiana of North Christian’s multi-use availability. That includes everything from dinners (thanks to a full commercial kitchen and a spacious downstairs auditorium) to meetings to classes to goodness-knows-what.
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There’s even the future possibility of making available office space for a user fee, especially for other nonprofits, according to the Rev. Tonja Gerardy, North Christian’s pastor.
“We are especially interested in the arts since our building is, in fact, a work of art — it seems a natural fit, and music since our building is designed with music in mind, and children’s organizations and programs,” Gerardy said.
The idea: Help make the building, the one housing a congregation that briefly considered even relocating in 2018, more readily open and accessible to the community as a varied resource and home for whatever residents might need. This concept grew out of planning from North Christian’s leadership and a host of other entities, including the esteemed Getty Foundation, working to help the congregation and its famous worship space survive and eventually thrive.
The push is simply one piece of an overall plan for the structure that is a National Historic Landmark — and one whose church is open and affirming to the LGBTQ+ community, and an “anti-racist/pro-reconciling congregation, committed to Ecumenical and Interfaith cooperation,” as the pastor stated.
Gerardy is more than happy to have found Hoover, who first came to Columbus to teach elementary school in 1967 when her now-ex-husband came to work for what was then Cummins Engine Co. She left eight years later, and returned again in retirement in 2017 because many of her friends were here.
“Nancy is well-connected in the community, and has the necessary skills and experience to really fulfill what we are hoping for this position,” Gerardy said. “North Christian Church has long thought of itself as a ‘community hub,’ welcoming individuals, groups, and organizations for their meetings, events, and work spaces.”
Hoover’s post also includes leading tours for a regular stream of visitors wanting special access. That includes photographers, architects, and student groups. Just the other day, she led through the building a Milwaukee architect who always schedules any Indiana trips to include at least a drive-by sighting of North Christian.
“We have an awful lot of space here,” Hoover said. “We just want to see it utilized.”
Hoover, who now attends worship services at North Christian, remembers her first visit to the structure being a distinguished lecture series talk by famed actor Vincent Price about “The Enjoyment of Great Art” in 1970.
It has hosted a great many speakers and events since then, ranging from more recent gatherings such as Exhibit Columbus architectural presentations to community vigils marking a stand against terroristic violence.
“More people are finding out about us,” Hoover said. “But we know this (work) is not all going to happen overnight.”
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About Nancy Hoover” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Born: Argos, Indiana in the northern part of the state.
Current role: Community ambassador of North Christian Church, to education the public and make people aware of how they can use the celebrated Modernist structure.
First came to Columbus: 1967, stayed eight years ast a teacher.
Returned to Columbus: 2017, as a retiree.
Education: Doctorate in educational administration, University of Louisville; master’s in theater education, University of Louisville; bachelor’s in English/public speaking, Butler University.
Last post before returning to Columbus: Associate professor in the college of education for Argosy University Online, 2007 to 2018. (She also served the Sarasota, Florida school in other roles, such as interim president).