by Maria Scrivani
Go ahead, knock the weather. Make fun of our sports teams. We know what
makes Western New York great: Its people like Nels and Nick Hopkins. This father-son
duo has made lifetime commitments to public service and professional success, in the
worlds of business and medicine respectively. Recently L. Nelson Hopkins, Jr. and Dr. L.
Nelson Hopkins III were honored with the NCCJs first Intergenerational Award in
recognition of their wisdom, care and compassion.
The senior Hopkins, Nels, is former CEO of the venerable mechanical
contracting firm John W. Danforth Co. Though hes well past standard retirement age,
theres nothing standard about Nels Hopkins. When he stepped down from the top slot
in the early 90s to allow a younger group of administrators to take over, he stayed
on as a director. Hes still going into the office every day claiming its
because his wife Jane says, for better or for worse, but not for lunch.
In fact Nels is a valued member of the management team at Danforth, having
worked his way up through the ranks (he started as a clerk for the company in 1939).
I dont work as hard as I once did, Nels admits, but I feel a
little bit needed, a little bit wanted, and its a great joy to continue in a
much-reduced capacity. He laughs at the relief of having absolutely no
What he does have is gravity, a seriousness of purpose, a wisdom of the
ages, if you will, that serves him well in the many volunteer capacities in which he has
served and continues to serve, others. A Millard Fillmore Hospital director for many years
(predating his sons involvement there) he continues on as an honorary director of
the Foundation and the Kaleida Council.
The YMCA has been a big part of my life, says Nels. I
first joined it in 1926. He was chairman of the downtown branch and still serves as
a trustee of the organization. He holds dear, among many honors bestowed on him over the
years, the Ys Gold Key Award. Nels is also recipient of the Mechanical Contractors
Associations national Distinguished Service Award. A member of the Westminster
Presbyterian Church since 1932, he has over the years served as deacon, elder and trustee.
More recently he has acted as vice chair of the board for the Elizabeth Pierce Olmstead
M.D. Center for the Visually Impaired (formerly The Blind Association), helping to guide
their successful capital campaign. He has been described as a stalwart, unassuming
leader by recipients of his generosity.
This community has been good to me, Nels says simply, in
response to the question whywhy all this activity, why not sit back and take it easy
at this point in your life? I have tried to guide my children in the direction of
being community-minded, of being generous with their worldly goods, of helping people less
well-off, without being dictatorial. I have tried to show them by my deeds and the way
Ive lived and I hope they believe.
So they havethe Hopkins heritage lives on. Jane and Nels are the
proud parents of three childrentheir son, who resides in Buffalo and two daughters,
Robin H. Amper and Jane H. Carey, who live out of town. They have six grandchildren and a
great-granddaughter, named after Jane. We also have two fine sons-in-law and a
wonderful daughter-in-law, adds Nels.
Nels and Janes 50th Anniversary with Nick, Robin and Janie.
Its Nick whos most closely followed Nels example though
along quite a different career path. I thought itd be nice if he took over
this company one day, but that was not to be, Nels says. Now I couldnt
be more proud of him.
Nick has been chief of neurosurgery for Kaleida Health (formerly Millard
Fillmore Hospital) for 20 years and professor and chairman of neurosurgery/ professor of
radiology at the State University of New York at Buffalo for 11 years. He shepherds a
multi-disciplinary team of investigators conducting cutting-edge research in the field of
stroke prevention and therapy. His efforts have resulted in the establishment of the
Toshiba Stroke Research Center, a world-class facility located on SUNYABs South
In addition to seeing patients and teaching, Dr. Hopkins spends his days
coordinating research activities at the center and getting the word out about
their work. With the goal of creating a permanent endowment so the center can keep going,
he travels around the world to speak and raise funds.
Nick traces his interest in medicine to a family tragedy. He had a sister
who died at age 8 of a malignant tumor. Once he began studying, he found he liked the
surgical discipline. I was attracted to the incredible complexity of the nervous
system. The brain is like the jewel in the crownits the least understood, the
most important and complex organ in the bodyand were just beginning to
In that sense, he is so clearly like his fatherattracted to
challenge. Nick speaks of his dad with a kind of awe: The most important thing
Ive learned from my father is humility and perseverancemaybe perseverance
first and then humility.
Octogenarians snowmobiling in Wyoming.
Hes always been an amazingly active community volunteer. In
his own quiet way hes a force in anything he does...Hes always taken a lesser
role but become a major force...My son worked for him a few summers. He was so impressed
how even though Grampy was retired, everyone still looked to him for leadership,
Nick remarked about his father.
In lives full of public postures and professional recognition, Nels and
Nick both point to their children as their proudest achievements . Nick and his wife
Bonnie have three children, Bob (father of the much-admired Jane and a soon-to-be-born
sibling), Margie and Betsyall of whom live in the New York City area. They reunite
often, especially for family holidays.
Nick and Bonnies children: L to R Margaret, Bob and Elizabeth.
Nick, Bonnie and their children climbing The Grand Teton, 1996.
The Hopkins family at Nick and Bonnies daughter Margies marriage to Larry Whistler in October 1998.
For relaxation Nick and Bonnie ski, hike and play racquet sports. Nels and
Jane spend five months of the year at their home on the Canadian shore, where he loves to
Nick and Bonnie Hopkins in Wyoming.
The Hopkins father and son both live in the City of Buffalo, near each
other. Nick refers to his dad as my best friend, a tribute too few parents
ever hear. Though they move in different professional circles, they remain close at heart
and in spirit, cut from the same cloth, driven at once to succeed and help others do the
same. You can call it the Hopkins heritage and know that Western New York is a better
place for it.
Maria Scrivani is a freelance writer.
Back to cover stories