Where would Northwest Nazarene University women’s athletics be without Dr. Martha Hopkins? Would there be three trips to the NAIA volleyball final four? Or two national titles in track and field for Ashley Puga? Or two trips to the women’s basketball national title game, culminating in the 1997 win?
The longtime champion of women’s athletics at NNU passed away June 26 at the age of 81 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Hopkins came to Nampa when she was in seventh grade after her family sold their lumber business in Cloverdale, Oregon. She graduated from NNC in 1959 and returned in 1966 as a faculty member.
“There have been some really incredible, trailblazing women at NNU since its inception, and I would venture to say that Martha is at the top of that list,” said Athletic Director Kelli Lindley. “Martha had an unwavering passion and love for the mission of transformation at NNU. With what seemed like laser focus, she poured herself into making NNU Athletics accessible for women and was always pushing for gender equality.”
While varsity women’s athletics would eventually have started at NNU, Hopkins jumpstarted the process in 1969 and was a tireless advocate for women’s sports. She then coached every sport the school has offered including men’s tennis and men’s track and field, women’s tennis, women’s basketball, volleyball and field hockey; was the athletic director; and served in a variety of roles around campus during her 34-year career.
“She was a quintessential NNU supporter,” said Roger Schmidt, a longtime colleague of Hopkins and the coach of the national title basketball team. “That was her life. She never got married, but her life was helping kids and helping the school and the administration and faculty to develop into the best people and programs. She was very good at supporting and helping people and kind of knowing how to get things done.”
Hopkins herself had been a stellar athlete in college. She played any games that were offered through intramurals and extramurals, but with no varsity women’s sports in the late 1950s and early 1960s, she never got to shine on a big stage. When she came back to NNU after earning a master’s degree from Indiana University, she began a lifelong crusade to create an equal playing field for women in sports.
“I think the reason Martha was so intent on providing athletics for women was so they could experience something she was not able to do,” said Minnie Richards, a 15-year member of the Board of Trustees and a lifelong friend of Hopkins. “She wanted to help girls be able to reach their maximum abilities in things she wasn’t able to do.”
“She was a strong woman and she helped so many of us women to be outgoing and responsible,” said Darlene Brasch, who graduated from NNC in 1972 and was elected into the athletic hall of fame after a stellar career coaching volleyball. “She was Christ- like in all she did. I am blessed to be a small part of a huge crowd of women who have been touched by this amazing Christian female role model in their lives.”
Women’s basketball coach Steve Steele just wrapped up his third season at NNU, but he got to know Hopkins so well they would go out to lunch once a month and sometimes go to garage sales together. “She was a funny, clever lady to be around,” Steele said. “She cared about our team a lot. In my mind, she is a celebrity as far as NNU goes, but you never felt that way with her because she always made you laugh and be comfortable.”
Hopkins, who lived with Ron and Joann Williams the last four and a half years of her life, often had the women’s basketball team over for meals and to play games. It was a highlight for the ladies, and it helped establish deep relationships with a younger generation.
Ellie Logan, who was a star on the women’s basketball team the last five years, said she always tried to be on Hopkins’ team for cards. It was just more fun to beat everyone else.
“Martha meant the world to me,” said Kate Cryderman, who graduated from NNU in 2017 after playing women’s basketball for three years. “She took me in as her own and was a great mentor and friend. She has left a lasting legacy at NNU and all student-athletes are benefiting from her dedication to our university.”
Hopkins helped a legion of women who came through NNU to be better teachers, coaches, role models, friends and followers of Christ.
For Joann Williams (’68), who played extramural sports for her in the late 1960s and later became her caregiver, Hopkins will be a friend who cannot be replaced. “There won’t be anyone who will replace Martha. There will not be anyone who can ever be that kind of inspiration that she was.”
Hopkins spent her career at the university filling every role that was needed in athletics but also in academics. She was a professor of kinesiology for 34 years, an academic dean for three years, the head of the HPER department for four years, chair of the division of professional studies for 15 years and was the athletic director for four years.
She was elected into the athletic hall of fame in 1992. Even after retiring in 2000, she remained active in her support both with her time and her money. She gave money to upgrade the women’s basketball locker room, upgrade the basketball bleachers, to start the Martha Hopkins Women’s Athletic Scholarship and the W.L. “Bill” & Della Hopkins Scholarship. She gave financially to every sports program.
“Martha Hopkins was the epitome of a Christian coach and faculty member,” President Joel Pearsall said. “Her impact across 34 years at NNU was enormous, and she touched hundreds if not thousands of lives—and I am one of those who was deeply impacted by her.
“Even after her retirement in 2000, ‘Doc Hop’ (as she was known to many) was present, encouraging and inspiring. I am grateful that in God’s providence, Dr. Martha Hopkins invested her life at NNU.”
Trying to sum up Martha Hopkins’ legacy is nearly impossible. Considering everything she accomplished and how many lives she impacted it is hard to nail down what she means to this community.
“Beyond Martha’s extraordinary generosity, she set the example for other campus leaders in regard to how to coach, teach, invest and lead with grace, intelligence, integrity and always humor,” Lindley said. “None of that ever faded, and I am so grateful that so many women, including myself, were able to be mentored by Martha and call her friend.”