Known for her seemingly boundless energy and contagious enthusiasm, Whitworth choir director Winifred “Hoppy” McNair Hopkins led the program’s growth and the increasing prestige of Whitworth’s vocal department from 1934-47. She conducted men’s and women’s quartets, mixed quartets, the chorus and a men’s glee club, and each year she directed Handel’s The Messiah. Under her direction, the Whitworth Choir made its first public appearance, on November 11, 1934, at Saint Paul’s Methodist Church.
A graduate of Albany College in Albany, Ore. (now Lewis & Clark College), and of the American Conservatory of Music, Fontainebleau, France, Hopkins also studied at the American Conservatory of Music of Chicago, the University of Southern California, and the University of Oregon. Before coming to Whitworth, she supervised music for 10 years in public schools in Washington and Oregon, taught for a year at Pacific University, in Forest Grove, Ore., and she was head of the music department at the American School for Boys, in Greece.
Hopkins’ students loved her for her good humor. She served as chaperone for spring vacation retreats; she would forever be known as “Hoppy” to the 10 young women with whom she shared a three-room cabin at Loon Lake, north of campus. One Whitworthian article described a scene in which she was directing the Whitworth chorus in front of a kindergarten class in Naches, Wash.: “Mrs. Hopkins found it necessary to conduct the chorus with one hand, while she used her other hand in motioning to the children not to be so noisy. Frequently she whispered to them, ‘Ssshh! Ssshh!’ Then many of the children giggled with excitement.”
After retiring from Whitworth, Hopkins moved to California, and then to Portland, Ore., where she died in 1984. The year before she died, former Whitworth music professor George Ross paid her a visit at her nursing home. “The nursing home was a dismal experience,” he said. “Everyone looked somewhat dead. But at the end of the hall, there was a woman in a wheelchair looking like the prow of a ship. She was sitting straight up – and had just gotten back from the hairdresser. I knew the minute I saw her that it was Hoppy.” Several of Hopkins’ former Whitworth students established a music scholarship in her memory.