Nan's Fans: The Heritage She Left Behind

Nan Carney-DeBord was the number one fan of countless Bishops. While coaching and teaching at Ohio Wesleyan, she cheered on students and athletes in the classroom, on the court and field, and in life. Nan’s positivity and enthusiasm extended to colleagues, alumni, and parents.

Today, Nan has her official cheering section in the recently renovated Branch Rickey Arena thanks to two top fans—Rachael Grant Allison ’89 and Ellen Simpson ’77.

“When I learned there was going to be a major renovation of Branch Rickey Arena, I knew I wanted to offer financial support to help make this already amazing facility even better,” shares Ellen, a current member of the Board of Trustees. “When meeting with Annie Seiler ’75 to discuss an array of naming opportunities and seeing that a portion of the stands was one of them, a lightbulb went off. It was a chance to honor a long-serving professor and coach who helped to shape so many lives in this space. And, having a bit of a sense of humor, I loved the irony of naming something in Branch Rickey for the current Denison athletic director to celebrate her 25 years of teaching service at Ohio Wesleyan.”

Rachael, who notes that Nan is one of her life’s top three significant influences, quickly jumped on board the idea of honoring Nan. Rachael and Ellen are lead co-donors in naming a section of the seats in Branch Rickey Arena, indicated by a “Nan’s Fans” plaque in Nan’s honor. “Many others joined us in supporting this effort, for which I am very grateful,” Ellen says.

Ellen knew Nan when she coached field hockey at OWU and when she was a faculty representative to the OWU Alumni Board of Directors, which Ellen served from 2002-2008. Throughout the years, Ellen became good friends with Nan and her family. Ellen thought it was important for the other lead donor to be one of Nan’s students, and Rachael was eager also to honor Nan’s legacy. “Nan is a champion of equity and equality,” Rachael says. “She is tireless in supporting every sport and the leadership skills gained through sport. She ‘raised’ great human beings through her influence on our lives. She was our champion in DIII, where so many would have written us off for sports.”

Rachael arrived at OWU to play soccer, but with Nan as a champion, Rachael also joined the women’s basketball team. “My life is monumentally better because I met her one day in a meeting with my high tops over my shoulder and then followed her to the court just to pass the ball around and see what the team was all about.”

Ellen and Rachael say they have felt the impact of Nan’s positivity. “Nan is one of the best and most positive women I know,” says Ellen. “She’s a joy. There’s lots of room for that in today’s world. I will be forever grateful for the positive and often life-changing influence she has had on 25 years of students and colleagues at OWU. She was and is the epitome of an OWU professor and coach.”

“I think of her words, lessons, and impact on my life almost daily,” Rachael shares. “She introduced me to PMA—Positive Mental Attitude. I put it on my graduation mortar board and still use it today. She taught me that regardless of my role, learning is not one-directional. It is core to my leadership style and professional coaching as a corporate leader today.”

In reaction to Ellen and Rachael’s news of the “Nan’s Fans” plaque, Nan says she felt overwhelmed and honored. “First of all, this is one thing I took with me, and quote often from Branch Rickey, ‘It is not the honor you take with you, it is the heritage you leave behind.’ If I had a positive impact in lifting other strong women, then I know my time at OWU was successful,” Nan says. “Most significantly, life is about relationships I formed on and off the courts with colleagues and athletes. I valued my time at Ohio Wesleyan. I lived it, owned it, and absorbed it. It owned my heart.”