Oftentimes, after returning home from a shift with the Illinois State Police, Nick Hopkins would have a song on his lips that he recently heard.
He would sing it to his wife, Whitney, who would normally roll her eyes at first, before the couple would dance in their kitchen.
“Somehow, that boy always had me laughing, smiling,” Whitney said.
That was one of several anecdotes shared at Sunday’s funeral for Nick, who died Aug. 23 after being fatally shot in East St. Louis while on duty.
Thousands of people, including hundreds law enforcement personnel, were at Waterloo High School for the funeral.
Thousands more watched via live stream, attended the visitation Saturday night at WHS, placed 1,000 American flags along the funeral procession’s route or lined the route of the procession – which included hundreds of police vehicles from several nearby states – from Waterloo to Columbia and back.
According to those who spoke at the funeral, that outpouring of support is not surprising given the person Nick was.
“Nick had a giant, toothy smile, which happens to be a family trait,” Nick’s brother Zack, who is a sergeant with the Columbia Police Department, said in his eulogy. “However, Nick’s smile was the biggest. That’s because his enormous smile was merely the reflection of his enormous heart.
“Nick needed a huge heart because he possessed immeasurable love for his family, especially his wife Whitney, and his three beautiful children Evelyn, Owen and Emma,” Zack continued, his voice breaking. “Nick’s infinite ability to love wasn’t limited by just his family. Nick loved his friends, his church, his fellow troopers and just about anybody that came across his path.”
Pictures of Nick and two framed uniforms stood behind those who spoke, while his casket, with an American flag draped over it, sat in front of the stage.
His WHS sports jerseys were also displayed.
Nick’s pastor, Jamey Bridges of Life Community Church in Columbia, officiated the services and spoke first.
Next up was Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, who spoke specifically to Nick’s children because his own father died when he was 7.
“I want them to know what a wonderful, memorable and remarkable mark their father has left on this world,” Pritzker said. “Anyone reading the newspaper in the last week knows the honor that Nick was to his uniform, the respect he brought to the Illinois State Police.
“But it was Nick the family man, the neighbor, the friend, the father, the husband, the son that made him even more special to this world. He was a rare breed – the kind of person who didn’t waste a single minute of the three decades he blessed the world with.”
Illinois State Police Acting Director Brendan Kelly followed Pritzker, talking about the ISP motto of integrity, service and pride.
“We will rightly name a road or bridge after Trooper Hopkins, and we will rightly put his name on the monument. But if you want to see his true monument, look around you,” Kelly said. “His monument is the light on the path forward that he leaves for his brothers in SWAT and (Metro-East Police Assistance Team) and patrol, and all his brothers and sisters in the Illinois State Police.
“If you seek integrity, there it is,” he continued, gesturing at the casket with each statement. “If you seek service, the ultimate service, there it is. If you seek pride, in this moment, just look around you.”
But, Kelly said, Nick’s greatest monument can be seen in the eyes of his family.
“It’s the love they all share with him and with each other,” Kelly said. “That is his greatest monument: a legacy of love that will endure forever.”
That love was on display in Zack and Whitney’s poignant eulogies.
Zack – Nick’s oldest brother – shared memories of sharing a bed with him as a child, of how Nick’s willingness to help anyone, of his daily message to his siblings, of his carpentry and of his love for his family.
He ended by discussing how Nick’s impact will live on.
“Because of you, we will strive just a little harder to be kind to others, to live life big and to not take ourselves too seriously,” Zack said. “Your humor, your kindness and your selflessness continue to inspire us forever. We love you.”
Bridges then delivered the message at the funeral, encouraging those in attendance.
“Right now, something is happening in heaven that I don’t think any earthly eye has seen,” he said. “We are not mourning what is happening to Nick right now. We are mourning because we feel loss. But make no mistake, he is not hurting.”
Finally, Whitney spoke about Nick, who she dated in high school.
“I want to be mad at something or someone,” she began, fighting back tears. “I can’t think of anything to be mad about, though. We have three beautiful kids. He worked so hard for everything, everything that we have, and he died doing what he loved, next to a team of guys that meant so much to him.”
She shared how Nick never complained when she moved his many pairs of shoes and would always oblige when his children asked him to turn on the lights on his police vehicle.
“He was our light, you guys,” she told the crowd, which included many crying people. “He was the one who held this family together. Unfortunately, being a police officer’s wife, you have these hard conversations. I always told him ‘Go. Have fun. Do what you love.’
“I told him if anything would happen, we would be OK. We would be strong. We would be brave. How I wish that knock on the door didn’t come. But it did… We are now challenged to face a new normal.”
Like those before her, she expressed condolences to the ISP and others who knew Nick and thanked everyone for their support.
“Most of all, thank you for your prayers,” she said.
“I feel the power of your prayers when I have a hard time breathing, a hard time standing and celebrating Nick.”
She concluded by giving the audience some advice she learned from Nick, as seen in his frequent songs in the kitchen.
“You have a choice to do the little things in life,” she said. “Do them. Make time for what’s most important.”