Hannelore Zander Eck, 93, of Kalamazoo, Michigan died Sunday, June 28. In her final weeks, she was lovingly and respectfully being taken care of by the staff at Rose Arbor Hospice. She was a proud member of People’s Church for about 60 years.
Hannelore was born to Ernst and Margaret Zander in 1921, in Leipzig, Germany. Ernst owned a haberdashery for men, where Margaret kept the books. As Jews, her family faced increasing oppression in Nazi Germany. So in 1939, she and her parents were forced to emigrate to England, where they spent the war years. They survived the London blitz, endured the hardships of war, and she postponed her dreams of attending university. Her father died there. In 1945, Hannelore and her mother immigrated to the United States to join her brother Henry Zander, who had come to Chicago in 1937. Their mother died shortly after they arrived.
Hannelore was among the first students and graduates of Chicago’s Roosevelt University, a newly created college unique in its day for its diversity of faculty and students, and commitment to social justice. In Chicago, she discovered her spiritual home at the Free Religious Fellowship headed by Lewis McGee, one of the first African-American Unitarian ministers. About the same time, she met Sherwood B. Eck, a graduate student at the University of Chicago. They were married by Dr. McGee in 1950 and moved to Kalamazoo.
Though she worked for many years as a secretary and translator for the Upjohn Company, her most notable contributions were to social justice. Her early
experiences with gross intolerance guided her actions throughout her life. From the 1940s to her final days, she was a fierce, fearless and constant champion for the rights of minorities, women, immigrants, and the members of LGBTQ communities. One of my earliest memories was her explaining to me the evils of “block busting” by racially intolerant and avaricious real-estate agents. Later, she explained to me the evils of discrimination against homosexuals in the early 1960s. I am sure she would have been among the Freedom Riders, if at the time she had not been married with two young sons. She was active in many civic organizations including Amnesty International, Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, The People’s Church of Kalamazoo, and Lemkin House.
She will be missed by many but left an enduring legacy of people she helped who now help others.
“Se non è vero, è ben trovato”
—John Eck, Hannelore’s Son