Nancy Kimberly Des Marais, age 96, died Monday, April 23, 2012, at her home in the Town of Menasha.
There will be no funeral, but a memorial service will be held in the Fox Valley within a few months, time and location to be announced in this publication.
Born October 7, 1915 in Chicago, Nancy was the first child of Daniel Lucius Kimberly and Margaret Smith Kimberly, both of Neenah. Her husband, Hubert Harold “Hub” Des Marais, originally of Staples, Minnesota, pre-deceased her, as did her younger sister, Margaret “Peg” Kimberly Jones, of New Canaan, Connecticut, and her youngest son, Stephen Sidney Des Marais, of Neenah.
She is survived by five of her six children: Elisabeth DesMarais of Los Angeles, CA; Anne K. Des Marais (m. Don Vought), of Menasha; Daniel K. Des Marais, of Disputanta, VA; Robert R. Des Marais (m. Eimie Okida Des Marais) of San Anselmo, CA; and Katherine H. Des Marais, of Washington, DC. Additionally surviving her are her six beloved grandchildren: Lucas Vought, of Arcata, CA; Nina Vought, of Menasha; Emily Vought, of San Francisco, CA; Margaret “Mari” Vought, of Encinitas, CA; Maria Des Marais, of Hayward, CA; and Scott Des Marais, of Disputanta, VA; as well as her devoted nieces and nephew Anne Jones Ryan, Sally Jones Ryan, and Harry F. “Hank” Jones III.
Nancy was educated at Neenah public schools, Emma Willard School, Lawrence College, Northwestern University (drama), and The Neighborhood Playhouse (dramatic arts) in New York City, after which she worked as a stage actress in and around New York.
In World War II Nancy served in Europe and North Africa as a Red Cross volunteer, for which she was later awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom. She met Hub Des Marais, a dashing young Army colonel, in North Africa. They were married in Neenah during the war, and after the war returned to the Fox Valley where they began their family. Following Hub’s early death in 1965, and once her children were grown, Nancy was active in local cultural and civic affairs, and to a lesser extent in state, national, and international organizations, until late in her long life. Having seen war, Nancy worked for peace. She was for many years an active member of the World Federalist Association, a group advocating a stronger UN. Early in the mid-20th-century US military engagement in Vietnam, Nancy became a vocal anti-Vietnam-war activist. She organized, marched, and campaigned. She also served as a Wisconsin delegate, pledged to anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy, at the now-infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Partly in response to police abuses she witnessed during that convention, Nancy founded the Fox Valley regional chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which she then managed for decades.
Always happy in footlights, Nancy acted in many local stage productions, often at the Attic Theatre in Appleton and with Riverside Players in Neenah. She was for years the voice of a regular one-minute local radio program called “ A Date With History.”
Nancy remained loyal to the Red Cross and served on the board of its local chapter. Additionally she was involved with UW–Fox Valley, as an advisor; and with the Neenah Historical Society, The Neenah-Menasha Visiting Nurse Association, and various ad hoc groups created for the betterment of the community. Some knew her as “The Tree Lady,” for her successful campaign to save several oak trees on what is now 9th Street in Town of Menasha, when land for the extention of that street was taken via eminent domain from her back yard.
Nancy was a longtime member of North Shore Golf Club, Riverview Country Club, Tuesday Club and Wednesday Club.
The Des Marais Family is deeply grateful to the skilled and compassionate professional caregivers who attended Nancy Des Marais around the clock during several years prior to her death. Her caregiver team included caregiver-managers Tami King and Lea Wiggs; and Bonnie Delie, Kelly Keen, Sherrie Eichinger, Chris Nielsen, Kim Clayton, and Tiffany Schmalz.
Westgor Funeral Home in Neenah is providing mortuary and cremation services. Interment will be at Oak Hill Cemetery at a later date.
For those who would like to make charitable gifts in memory of Nancy K. Des Marais, the family suggests donation to Attic Theatre, in Appleton; or to the American Red Cross in Northeast Wisconsin, headquartered in Oshkosh.