Nancy Ellen Crooks (nee Schwanzle) was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin on August 14, 1929. She attended Central High School and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. After receiving her Masters Degree from the United States International University in San Diego, California, she went on to pursue special studies at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
Nancy married Howard Crooks on June 17, 1950, and accompanied him, to Africa for the first time in 1956, with their four-year-old son Michael. Their second son, John, was born in Ethiopia and after a few years the family moved to Kenya, where the boys spent their formative years.
Nancy devoted her life to the betterment of the primary educational system and the lives of women in Kenya. In 1967, Nancy co-founded and was the first headmistress of the American Community School with 30 children, mainly taught through correspondence courses. Within two years, Nancy had developed a new curriculum, hired teachers from the United States, and increased enrolment to 100 children. The school evolved first into the Nairobi International School, and is now known as the International School of Kenya - one of the most prestigious and successful learning institutions in Kenya.
Ten years later, Nancy became the Educational Director and Program Coordinator for the Intercultural Action Learning Program for Kenya, based in Princeton, New Jersey. She constructed an accredited one-semester travel/study program for American high school students in Kenya. This project was used as the thesis for her Masters Degree in Education.
In 1978, Nancy opened a franchise of the US-based Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics in Nairobi. Four courses were offered to the public each year, as well as in-house courses for major corporations and government organizations.
Nancy established The Language Centre, a school for teaching English as a Second Language, in Nairobi in 1980. ESL classes were delivered to adults and children from more than 25 countries, many of whom received sponsorship from major players in humanitarian organizations in Kenya.
In 1986, she co-authored a booklet, entitled 'Kenya Trivia’, about Kenya’s ecology, geography and culture. Forty-two thousand copies were published and sold. This publication was a key text used by individuals training to be guides in the national museum, as well as safari guides.
In a total departure, Nancy opened a Tex-Mex restaurant in Nairobi in 1990 with her husband. ‘Gringo’s’ became a popular eating place for the American community.
A couple of years later, she established the Nancy Crooks Nanny Centre in Nairobi, in order to enhance the skills of child-minders. For this, she developed comprehensive student and teacher manuals.
Nancy always enjoyed starting new ventures, getting them operational, and then handing them over to others to perpetuate. In 2003, she assisted in the establishment of the Culinary Institute of Africa for adults of the Turkana tribe in Lokichoggio, northern Kenya. Students learned safari camp-related skills, and 75 Turkana men and women have since been employed in the safari business throughout Kenya. During the course, Nancy introduced the concepts of cooking and water purification using a solar cooker. She was later awarded substantial grants from a non-governmental organization based in the United States to erect commercial-size solar cookers to feed 1,500 children and teach Turkana women how to make their own cookers and cook with ‘Cookits’, using solar power exclusively, thus protecting the fragile ecosystem of the very arid northern part of Kenya.
Recognizing the dismal plight of female inmates at the Langata Women’s Prison in Nairobi, Nancy volunteered a great deal of her time, teaching the women basic educational skills and organizing lectures and demonstrations for them.
Throughout her life in Kenya, Nancy was an active member of the American Women’s Association of Kenya, and was a trustee of the association’s charitable trust, playing a major role in enhancing the lives of many Kenyan women, children and elderly persons.
Few individuals have made such a positive impact on the lives of those less fortunate than herself. Nancy gave of her time and expertise generously, and when she saw an injustice, she sought to make it right. She was a woman of strong convictions, and acted upon them to better the plight of those around her. Nancy was a devoted wife and mother, and a true visionary whose wisdom and knowledge touched countless lives.
Nancy was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009, and passed away the same year, surrounded by her loving family, on September 14th.
Nancy is survived by her adoring husband, Howard, her son John and his wife Patti, with their three children (Sean, Christopher and Colleen) of Placerville, California, Howard and Nancy’s adopted daughter, Christina Vincent and her husband, Phil, and granddaughter, Stephanie, of Brisbane, Australia, and Nancy’s sister, Sally Cremer-Williams and her husband, Jack, of Onalaska, Wisconsin.
Click here to view additional photos of Nancy.
Click here to view videos from the "Celebration of the Life of Nancy Crooks" service held in Nairobi, Kenya on March 13, 2010.