Aimee England, a volunteer, political activist, and dear friend to many in the Hillsdale community, passed away Tuesday morning of surgery complications.
“She lived her life in capital letters,” Benita DeRose of Domestic Harmony said of England. The Collegian interviewed England on Oct. 21 for a profile that was intended to run in the Nov. 6 issue.
England worked part time at Domestic Harmony and at RAND doing field tracking and census studies in Jackson County. She also ran Hillsdale Community News, a Facebook page and news outlet where she posted stories and pictures about local events and 24/7 updates on what was happening in Hillsdale.
“I just love it here,” England said. “A lot of people don’t, but I don’t have another home because my family moved. Friends become our chosen family – that’s how I feel about life.”
England said she moved to Hillsdale when she was 18 years old with her best friend, and quickly found work at Volume One Book Store, where she worked for 22 years. She soon began volunteering at Domestic Harmony and, in 1987, started attending city council meetings.
“I wanted to be aware and know what’s going on,” England said. “To see the interpersonal dynamics and the body language. You can learn a lot from that.”
England ran for city council and city clerk, and although she lost those races, said she prefered it that way.
“I can be myself,” England said. “If you are elected there are things you can’t say, and I don’t like that.”
Jeff King, a good friend of England, said they were political friends.
“She had the rare quality that you could disagree with her on political issues and still be her friend,” King said. “In fact, we were better friends because of it.”
He knew England since 2003 and said she believed in liberty issues. He affectionately referred to her as the oracle of Hillsdale.
“She kept the city council on their toes and that will be missed,” King said.
England said that one of her favorite parts of a small city like Hillsdale is that everybody knows your name.
“I like knowing everybody and pulling together for friends in need,” England said. “It’s like our motto, ‘It’s the people.’ And there’s good and bad to that, but there’s more good for the most part.”
She and King worked together for the addition of free internet in the town center. She considered it one of her favorite accomplishments, along with her successful petition to keep Monroe Street a two-way road.
She said every time she drove down the road, she thought about how it was her initiative that kept the city council from making that road a one-way street again after a construction project allowed it to be a two-way thoroughfare.
One of her favorite events in Hillsdale was the Fourth of July parade, which she and her best friend Julie Games ran for the past seven years. Last year, it attracted more than 3,000 people.
Games said she woke up early yesterday morning and spent time reading the kind words so many friends posted on England’s facebook wall.
“One person said that anytime they look at the sky they will think of Aimee taking pictures from heaven,” Games said.
England said she parted ways with Volume One books about six years ago and her whole world changed. At first she didn’t know what to do, but she went to a flea market and found a $50 DLSR camera. So she started attending events and taking pictures, and eventually created the Hillsdale Community News.
The camera died three years later and England attributed it to how many pictures she took.
“She just loved life. She was a passionate person and a pillar of the community,” Games said.
She said she will miss their adventures. She said they were both spontaneous people who would just call each other up and decide to go to an antique store at a moment’s notice.
DeRose knew England for nearly 30 years and met her at Volume One bookstore. For over 25 years, England was one of DeRose’s valued backup volunteers who was always willing to come in after work to help out. Three years ago, England began working as the volunteer organizer.
“She was great at social skills. She had the ability to communicate and make everyone feel comfortable,” DeRose said. “She’s a really happy person who lit up the room. Everything was different when Aimee arrived.”
DeRose said she was Hillsdale’s unofficial ambassador and everyone will miss that.
She added that England would be honored to have a news story about her.
“She wasn’t a really private person, and she was a news reporter first and foremost,” DeRose said. “This is exactly the way she would have wanted it to be.”
Gaines said she doesn’t think England got the respect she deserved.
“She worked hard and did so much for the community,” Games said.
England left her Collegian interview talking about how much she loves the fall in Hillsdale and how beautiful the fall colors are this year.
“I hear all these people saying they are going up north. Why go up north? I don’t understand that. It’s beautiful right here.”
And right here, beneath the reds and oranges of fall, England said her final goodbye to Hillsdale.
“She didn’t plan really well for tomorrow,” DeRose said. “She lived in the moment very fully.”