- Published: March 31, 2011
William (Bill) Hooper, well-known contractor, former Antioch and Miami Township trustee and local activist, died March 25 at Greene Memorial Hospital in Xenia. He was 91 years old.
Bill was born September 10, 1919, in Dedham, Mass., to James Ripley Hooper, an executive in a microfilm company, and Katherine (Katrine) Amory Hooper, a painter and theater and dance artist. Bill was renowned for his ability as a storyteller and raconteur; the tales of his childhood, educational background, service in the Navy during World War II and early years in Yellow Springs became familiar to his family, friends, and, oftentimes, complete strangers.
Bill and his three siblings grew up in the suburban community of Dedham, but his parents had been raised in upper class Boston society. His Hooper ancestors were prominent merchants and bankers; his mother was descended from artist John Singleton Copley. At the same time, the family was fiercely independent and their relationship with the established order was not always smooth. Bill liked to tell about a time when his mother was approached by a group representing the descendents of the Mayflower to become a member. When Katrine declined, they pressed her: “Surely you had an ancestor on the Mayflower?” She replied mischievously, “Oh no, we sent the servants first.” Bill said they promptly gave up their efforts. In fact, William Bradford, first governor of the colony, was a relative. Bill was very proud of his Boston heritage and never lost his strong New England accent.
Bill attended boarding schools from a very young age. He maintained a proud lifelong association with Dedham Country Day School, where he spent his elementary years. After a time at a school that also functioned as a working ranch in Carmel, Calif., Bill followed his brothers to Brooks School in North Andover, Mass., to prepare for college. His time at Brooks was cut short when one night he borrowed a steamroller being used by a local road crew. Bill moved on to the Westminster School in Simsbury, Conn., where he gained considerable recognition for designing and constructing a lighting dimmer board for the school theater. This proved to be the beginning of a long association with the technical side of theater.
Bill arrived at Antioch College in the fall of 1939. Katrine made the initial connection and lent Bill her car to drive to Ohio. Bill fell in love with Yellow Springs and, except for the time of his service in the Navy during World War II, never left. Bill became fast friends with Paul Treichler and deeply involved in theater at Antioch, sometimes to the detriment of his educational standing.
The arrival of World War II rescued Bill from his lackluster performance in classes at Antioch and, in early 1942, he joined the Navy. Bill used his family connections and previous experiences as first mate on the family sword-fishing boat to land an appointment as a first-class seaman. He was assigned to a converted yacht and spent the early war years defending Boston harbor. Although this was a plum assignment, Bill wanted to be closer to the action. He volunteered for combat duty and was assigned to the aircraft carrier Bon Homme Richard, which participated in the final campaigns of the Pacific Theatre, earning one battle star.
Bill returned to Yellow Springs after the war and was active in founding the Antioch Area Theatre in June, 1946. He resumed his academics with much greater success but, a few years later, started a small construction company with Bob Porter. Bill dropped out of Antioch just one quarter shy of completing his degree.
Bill had a long career as a local contractor and home builder. Between 1947 and 1970, Bill worked on numerous houses and commercial structures throughout Yellow Springs and the surrounding area. Bill took over ownership of the company from Porter around 1955 and renamed it the Hooper Construction Company. Bill was the developer of Westgate, the second integrated housing development in the United States, in the late 1950s and, as a result, was invited to join a national interracial housing advisory committee chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. Bill was far more interested in the craft of home-building than commercial success. He considered the Glen Helen Building one of his most outstanding achievements.
Bill was active in local government and politics. He ran for mayor of Yellow Springs in 1955 and lost by one vote. Bill also served as a Miami Township Trustee for more than 20 years.
Antioch College and Antioch University were central to Bill’s later life. Bill was elected president of the Antioch Alumni Association in the early 1970s and became a trustee shortly afterward. Bill was instrumental in construction projects for Antioch in Yellow Springs and at other campuses throughout the United States. As a special assistant to the president, with a salary of one dollar per year, Bill oversaw the renovation of South Hall and numerous other buildings as well as major renovation projects at the Antioch campuses in Seattle and New England. His work for Antioch continued through the construction of a new home for Antioch University Midwest just a few years ago.
Bill was predeceased by his wife, Jean Goff Hooper, a widely recognized performer and founder of Yellow Springs Center Stage, who died in 2007, as well as two brothers and a sister. Bill kept busy with traveling and never lost his passion for local and national affairs. Most recently, with his devoted companion Jane Baker, Bill found a new interest in opera and music that lasted to the very end of his life.
Bill gained immense satisfaction from the accomplishments of his family and shared news and personal stories with anyone who would listen. He is survived by a son and daughter-in-law, Jeff and Suzan Hooper of West Liberty; daughter Adeline Hooper of Northampton, Mass.; three grandsons: Bill Hooper, Ben Hooper, and Jack Hooper Samuels; a granddaughter, Miranda Hooper Samuels and many nieces and nephews.
A memorial service is planned for 10:30 a.m., April 16, at the Glen Helen Building. In lieu of flowers, donations in Bill’s memory may be made to the Yellow Springs Community Foundation.