Marilyn Kopp-Hecker’s zeal for social justice was forged in 1965 when she brought her young family down to Mississippi for the summer to participate in the civil rights movement.
The longtime Huntington resident spent the summer teaching poor black children despite the disapproval of the local Ku Klux Klan, her family said. The experience solidified a commitment to equality and compassion that defined Kopp-Hecker until she died of pneumonia on May 18. She was 81.
“This is how she thought was best to live her life: to dedicate it pretty much to helping other people, especially kids,” said her granddaughter, Dana Trismen. “It had nothing to do with whatever other people thought about it.”
Kopp-Hecker was born Marilyn James in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1937, her family said. She spent her early life in Brooklyn before moving to Malverne with her parents and two siblings. She was in the first generation of her family to go to college, attending Duke University, where she studied English.
“Reading’s been a major part of her life all her life,” said her daughter, Hilary Kopp-Trismen, of Andover, Massachusetts. “She pretty much always had a book in her hand.”
Kopp-Hecker graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1959 and moved to Huntington with her then-husband, Richard Kopp. The two began dating as high school freshmen in Malverne and married before they graduated college, Kopp-Trismen said.
Kopp-Trismen was only 4 when her parents took her to Mississippi, where Kopp-Hecker taught in the federal Head Start program, which helps young low-income children prepare for school.
“They believed in putting their actions where their beliefs are,” she said.
Kopp-Hecker also taught in Head Start upon returning to Huntington before taking a job at Paumanok Elementary School in Dix Hills. She taught third and fifth grade there for 25 years.
“She loved to teach, because it was a way to share her love of books with her kids,” Kopp-Trismen said.
Kopp-Hecker traveled extensively, visiting all 50 states with Bill Hecker, her second husband, Hecker said. The two met at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington, of which Kopp-Hecker was an active, longtime member.
“She was totally honest,” said Hecker, 79, of Huntington. “She would always get to the heart of the matter.”
After retiring in 1995, Kopp-Hecker continued to devote herself to altruistic causes, joining an effort to construct a library in Ethiopia, her family said.
“There’s a lot of great people out there who are like that,” her daughter said. “They don’t make a lot of money and they don’t have a big fancy title, but it doesn’t mean they’re not making the world a better place.”
Kopp-Hecker was cremated and her remains will be buried at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington in a memorial service at 3 p.m. on June 29.
Besides Hecker and Kopp-Trismen, she is survived by son Stephen Kopp of Houston, Texas; siblings Tom James of Columbus, Ohio, and Vivian Jones of La Cañada Flintridge, California; two grandchildren; three stepchildren; and four step-grandchildren.