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'She was adventurous': Remembering a fixture in local music

Shirley Hamilton Nehring passes away at age 89

DeKALB – For years, Shirley Hamilton Nehring, formerly of DeKalb, used to host out-of-town Northern Illinois University music students in her home. She didn’t provide just shelter, but helped students buy the instruments they needed. Sometimes she would take in visiting faculty members.

“The students who lived there were the joy of her life,” said Gretchen Moore, president of the Kishwaukee Symphony Associates.

Nehring died Nov. 5 in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, at age 89, but not before laying a foundation for local music.

Moore worked with Nehring on fundraising efforts for the orchestra. Every year, the association would host a fundraiser at Nehring’s home.

The event also would take place at the nearby Ellwood Mansion, with two different musical performances taking place simultaneously, Moore said, one classical, one classical jazz. People would switch performances halfway through, and a reception would follow afterward.

Nehring was there at the beginning of the orchestra, Moore said, and her support helped ensure the symphony would continue.

“She established a firm foundation for music in the community,” Moore said.

After living most of her life in Wisconsin, Nehring met her second husband, Paul Nehring of DeKalb, through her first husband, Robert Rivard Hamilton. Both of her husbands, and her sister, Geraldine Ruth Hiebert, preceded her in death. She is survived by her three daughters, Sarah Jean Hamilton, 68, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Marcia Ann Hamilton, 65, of Naperville, and Carol Marie Hamilton, 57, of Rochester, Minnesota; one son, Arthur Rivard Hamilton II, 59, of Minneapolis; two younger brothers, Hugh Corbyn Hatch, 87, of Elk Rapids, Michigan, and Edward Livingston Hatch, 78, of Kettering, Ohio; eight grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews.

When she moved back to Oconomowoc in 2015, Nehring donated her home to the Ellwood House Association. Along with the home, she left a piano bought on hers and Paul’s first anniversary.

“There was always music in the house,” Nehring said at the time. “So I wanted the piano to stay there.” 

Brian Reis, executive director of the Ellwood House Association, said Nehring was a big fan of history, and she donated her home so that it could be properly preserved. She was a lover of the arts and especially of music, he said. He said he would remember her as an energetic and thoughtful person.

“She was someone you wanted to know,” Reis said.

Tom Conway worked with Nehring on the board of the Ellwood House Association for many years, he said, and they soon became friends.

He said he will remember her generosity the most.

“It’s a real loss,” he said of her death.

Conway described Nehring as a fun person. He remembered a trip to Vienna with his and Nehring’s families.

“Whenever we were going somewhere, she was always 40 feet in front of the group,” he said. “She was a goer. She was adventurous.”

“I miss her,” Moore said.

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