Butterflies, cookies and love

Nancy Agney 2017 Illinois Country Living Mother of the Year

After answering the door to her farmhouse, Nancy Agney led me to her living room. As she turned, I noticed a gold filigree butterfly pin she was wearing on her back. I thought that was an odd spot to wear a pin and she went on to tell me about Courtney. Courtney was the daughter of Kathleen and Troy, Nancy’s son and daughter-in-law, who was born with congenital heart defects and other abnormalities. She spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital and passed away before her fourth birthday. Courtney holds a very special place in Nancy’s heart.

With tears in her eyes, she explained that the butterfly pin was in remembrance of her precious granddaughter who left this world much too soon. After her passing, Nancy received many sympathy cards and a common thread seemed to flow through them all – butterflies. They are beautiful, but have a short life and are gone much too quickly. Just like Courtney.

Nancy began collecting butterfly pins and always wears one somewhere on her clothing. Today it was on her back. Over the years, her collection has grown to more than 40 of various colors and sizes. It is common for her husband or grandchildren to give them to her.

Nancy and husband James have been married more than 53 years and live on a farm outside of Shelbyville. They have two sons, Troy and Tracy, seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

After they were unable to have more of their own, they fostered children.

Nancy says, “We figured the Lord put us here for a reason, and if we couldn’t have more of our own, we would take in foster children.”

At the time, they lived in Middlesworth and were permitted to have three foster children at one time. Occasionally, emergencies would occur.

“Late one Sunday night we received a call asking us take in four children,” recalls Nancy. “We told them we were full, but because it was an emergency were able to take them. When they brought them to the house, I told them all we had were sleeping bags on the living room floor. But, that was a blessing because those kids were scared and had been through so much that day. They didn’t want to be separated. I don’t think they would have been happy in another room without each other.

The Agneys sprang into action. “Troy went to town for milk. I had made cookies that day and we all sat around the table and got acquainted. They left that Wednesday and cried because they had never had it so good.”

That call was just one of many the Agneys answered over the years.

Ranging in age from newborn to high school senior, 24 children came in and out of their home. Sometimes they would receive a call from The Baby Fold organization. They would go to the hospital to pick up a newborn and care for it until it would be placed or adopted. Another time, they took in a baby through the organization while her unwed mother, who was not allowed to go home, figured out how to care for the baby on her own.

The anxiety was evident in her voice as she explained one particular situation. “We went to the Sullivan jail one night. They had nine-month-old twin girls they needed us to pick up. I was scared to death I would mix up those girls. As soon as we got home I put a dab of fingernail polish on one so that I could tell them apart!”

Over the years, one particular child grabbed the heartstrings of the Agneys.  “She was red-headed and cute as a button,” Nancy explains with a sad smile on her face. “I used to make clothes for my foster children. I sewed and sewed and sewed for that little girl! When we got involved with foster care, we were told that if we were thinking about adopting, we were in the wrong place. Well, we had always wanted a little girl. When we heard she was going to become adoptable, we were definitely interested. Then, her mother got out of prison and wanted her back. We decided then and there that we were never going to do that again.”

The Agneys were involved in fostering for 14 years, but it became increasingly difficult. When they began fostering, the parents had no idea where their children had been placed. That allowed the kids to feel safe and get more adjusted to family life. Over the years, that changed. Parents knew where their children were, and Nancy says they would sometimes show up intoxicated and want to see them. That made both Nancy and James uncomfortable and concerned for the safety of their boys. So, they ended that journey in their lives.

Nancy and James like to go to Branson, Mo. twice a year. Kathleen recalled how they took all six grandchildren with them the summer after Courtney passed away. She was with them in spirit, and they undoubtedly saw a few butterflies. It was a unique experience they all still talk about.

With tears in her eyes, Kathleen says, “She has been one of the biggest blessings in my life. Sometimes people worry when they marry into a family, but I struck gold! We’ve had our ups and downs, but she just accepted me and loved me right from the beginning.”

She explained that Nancy is always doing things for others and asking for nothing in return. She is always baking, often making cookies three times a week. Nancy started baking through 4H when she was eight. It’s something she has always enjoyed and James likes taking them to his morning coffee buddies. Nancy takes them to various meetings or tractor drives. Not because she was asked, but she knows people might get hungry and like something during breaks.

When Courtney was in the hospital in St. Louis, the Agneys would just show up with homecooked food or money for Troy and Kathleen. Sometimes she would bring cookies for the nurses. “It’s stuff she does just out of the blue and because of love,” explains Kathleen. That’s just one reason Kathleen felt motivated to nominate Nancy for Mother of the Year.

After a recent back surgery, Nancy wasn’t allowed to bake. Her granddaughter, Kaylee, told her she had to have cookies in the house, so Nancy directed James in making up a batch of potato chip cookie dough. Kaylee came and baked them for her, and she offered some to me, as she does for all guests. They were chewy, buttery, and delicious!

Nancy has worked as a receptionist at the Shelby County Bank for the past 32 years and isn’t looking to retire anytime soon. She enjoys talking to the customers and often brings in cookies or her well-known Payday bars.

If you are ever in the bank and meet Nancy, be sure to look for her butterfly pin. She will be wearing it somewhere, but not always in an expected place like her lapel.  Ask her about it and she will likely tell you about Courtney, and offer you cookies.

One of Nancy’s favorites are Potato Chip Cookies.

Potato Chip Cookies

1 c. sugar
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. oleo
2 eggs
2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
6 oz. butterscotch chips
2 c. crushed potato chips

Cream oleo, sugars and eggs. Add flour and soda. Stir in potato chips and butterscotch chips. Drop on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 16-18 minutes. Makes 4 dozen.

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