Villa Marie Claire

Raymond Hopp - A true gentleman

In what would be the last weeks of his life, Raymond Hopp was in the hospital and so agitated he asked his wife Nancy to stay with him. He didn't want to be alone and Nancy was putting in 40 and 50 hours a week by his side. Raymond, 72, had been battling pancreatic cancer for 20 months and had no intention of giving up the fight but his digestive system wasn't working and his legs had blown up to about 50 pounds each. He was uncomfortable and sometimes in pain.

"Raymond's grandfather lived until he was 99 and that was Raymond's plan," Nancy Hopp said. "When he was diagnosed he attacked the disease the way he did his business - 'We're going to try this plan and if it doesn't work, we'll try another one.' But with pancreatic cancer there weren't too many choices."

Still, he didn't want to give up, despite his physician's abrupt announcement one day in January 2014.

"He just came in and told Raymond, 'We're done buddy. Your journey is over. There's nothing else we can do.' It was horrible - we were shocked and Raymond just looked at me and said he was sorry for putting me through this," Nancy said.

An engineer by profession, Raymond owned and operated H.K. Metalcraft Mfg. Corps. in Lodi, started by his grandfather in 1926. He woke up each day excited to run the company, always striving to do something that would improve it, make more profits, hire more people, Nancy said. Their youngest of five children, Josh, now runs the business.

"Raymond always said if you get up in the morning and hate your job you should quit and do something you enjoy," Nancy said. "He talked to everyone - from janitors to CEO's and always turned the conversation around to them. He was very unique. Raymond will be remembered for being wise in his speaking, jovial in his outlook and kind in his interactions - a true gentleman."

On that dreadful day in the hospital Raymond assured Nancy that he had some stocks and bonds and she'd be a rich widow. "I told him I'd rather be a poor wife," she said.

Yet right then she couldn't let herself think about the future. She needed to deal with the hospital's plan to transport Raymond to a nearby hospice, a place she knew little about and made her feel uneasy. Though clouded in grief and anger, she remembered reading complimentary comments about the Villa Marie Claire hospice center in Saddle River and arranged for Raymond to be brought there.

Raymond arrived at the Villa on January 10 and died on January 14. But during those days, staff members made sure Nancy understood what was happening to him. They gave her and her family pamphlets explaining the different stages he would pass through and encouraged her to tell Raymond it was okay to go.

"The minute we arrived, something came over him," Nancy said. "He immediately said I could go home - he felt so comfortable. The staff treated him as one of their own family. His legs were heavy and the staff members were so gentle with him - it was like they were lifting their own father."

Raymond's optimism returned and up to the day before he died, he talked about rallying and going to Florida. He said he would keep up with his care at a cancer center in the Sunshine State.

"The whole staff was so loving and calm," Nancy said. "It was like we were the only patients in the world. They not only listened but they really heard what we had to say. I overhead someone at the Villa say it best: It's heaven before you die."