Celebrating the life of Erica Herling Kropp (1950-2016)

Bill Dennison ·
27 March 2017

On 22 February 2017, a large group of friends and co-workers gathered at the University of Maryland College Park to celebrate the life of an extraordinary person, Erica Herling Kropp. Erica worked in a research support role for 43 years for the University System of Maryland. Her first stint was for 32 years at College Park, followed by an 11 year stint at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). It was in Erica's UMCES role as Director of the Office of Research Administration and Advancement and then as Vice President for Administration that I had the privilege of working alongside her.

Erica Kropp
Erica Kropp

Erica retired from UMCES in late 2015, with the intention of spending time with her beloved husband Chuck while enjoying their lives in the quaint Eastern shore town of Vienna, Maryland. Erica had a zest for life, and she had many places she wanted to travel with Chuck. Erica and Chuck had large families and many friends that they enjoyed spending time with, so she had mapped out a busy retirement life. Sadly, this vision of their retired life together was not realized, as Erica was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in the spring of 2016. Erica endured chemotherapy, blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants, all with a positive attitude for six months before succumbing to the disease in November 2016. Those of us who knew Erica were crushed when we found out this news. She had been such a buoyant and positive influence on all of us, even when undergoing her cancer treatments, that it did not seem possible. Erica's large family held a private funeral, but her friends and co-workers needed to have an opportunity to express our grief as well as our appreciation of what Erica meant to us. So staff from the University of Maryland College Park and UMCES organized this event.

Amitabh Varshney, Vice President for Research at College Park hosted the memorial reception and welcomed us to the campus and introduced Don Boesch, UMCES President. Don recounted how Erica came to UMCES and how much she did to professionalize the research administration while making everyone feel at ease. Don spoke about Erica's role as a role model and mentor, while also emphasizing her intelligence, skills and caring for her staff. His one word summary of Erica was that she was a mensch (Yiddish for a person with integrity and honor). Don concluded by saying that Erica made him a better person, a sentiment echoed by many people, including myself.

Chuck and Erica Kropp
Chuck and Erica Kropp

Toni Lawson and Monique Anderson spoke about Erica's impact at the University of Maryland College Park. They both emphasized how much Erica meant to them not just as a boss, but as a positive role model and as a friend. While working with Erica, they learned how important it was to not only do your job well, but to live your life well. They talked about how Erica's family was so important to her and how she enjoyed talking about them to her co-workers. Even though it had been a dozen years since Erica left College Park, her co-workers still felt very close to Erica.

Dick Seligman, Associate Vice President for Research Administration at Cal Tech, talked about the important role Erica played at the national level in the realm of research administration. While everyone was aware of the important role that Erica played in the University System of Maryland, her leadership at the national level was not as well known. I received a glimpse of that role when I attended a Federal Demonstration Partnership meeting with Erica and we couldn't walk more than a few feet without someone approaching Erica to say hello and have a chat.

Erica with some of her University of Maryland College Park colleagues.
Erica with some of her University of Maryland College Park colleagues.

When Konrad Helring, Erica's brother, talked about growing up with Erica, we clearly saw the connection between the Erica we worked with and the little girl growing up in New York and then Greenbelt, Maryland. Konrad's comment about how Erica believed that you can disagree without being disagreeable resonated with me. He also talked about Erica's empathy and respect and that she believed in common sense even when sense wasn't common. And Erica's older sister Karene Herling Lagrone regaled us with funny stories of Erica as an energetic and spirited girl who would race around on her bicycle and was even put on a long leash attached to their backyard tree. She reminded us that beneath Erica's calm demeanor, there was a bright spark underneath, which in later years was revealed after a couple of glasses of red wine. It was nice to meet Erica's son Bryan Magrum and his wife Sophia, and Erica's brother-in-law and niece Larry and Shiela Lagrone.

Dave Nemazie, UMCES Chief of Staff, said that the most angry word he heard Erica utter was "Whatever!", which was always followed by a big smile. Dave also appreciated Erica's use of emojis in her emails and text messages, especially the emoji smiley face with a surgical mask that Erica used while undergoing chemotherapy. Dave read a very heartfelt letter from Erica's husband Chuck.

Left: Erica and a few of her colleagues. Right: Erica maintained a positive attitude throughout her medical treatments.
Left: Erica and a few of her colleagues. Right: Erica maintained a positive attitude throughout her medical treatments.

I enjoyed meeting Victor Medina, the smartest man in the room, because Victor was man who initially hired Erica over four decades ago. Several years ago, I recall Erica telling me that it was the forty year anniversary of her initial meeting with Victor and she needed to call him. When I met Victor, he also told me that he distinctly remembered that first meeting. Clearly, these kindred spirits saw something in each other, as they both went on to serve as Director of Research Administration and Advancement at College Park.

In November 2016, we held a large retirement party for Erica. At the party we presented Erica with a variety of presents, including a bracelet with a charm to represent each of the UMCES units. We also presented her with a book of songs, composed by Angela Richmond. The songs included "Don't Go, Sweet Erica" to the tune of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", "Fifty Ways to Make You Stay Here" to the tune of "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover", "She's Leaving" to the tune of "Leaving on a Jet Plane", "She's the Kropp" to the tune of "You're the Top", and "Tomorrow" from Annie's "Tomorrow". We also had the UMCES Executive Council serenade (badly) Erica with my song "Erica Kropp's Research Support Club Band" (below), with the appropriate concluding line "We want Erica Kropp to love". That line summarized how we all felt about Erica at this gathering.

Erica Kropp's Research Support Club Band

21 March 2014

Billy Dennison

It was forty two years ago today
Gary Kennedy invited Erica Kropp to play.
She's been going in and out of style,
But she's guaranteed to raise a smile.
So may I introduce to you
The class act we've had for all these years
Erica Kropp's research support club band.

She's Erica Kropp's research support club band,
We hope you will enjoy the show.
She's Erica Kropp's research support club band,
Sit back and let the evening go.
Erica Kropp's research, Erica Kropp's research,
Erica Kropp's research support club band.

It's wonderful she's here,
It's certainly a thrill,
She's such a lovely audience,
We'd like to take her home with us,
We'd love to take her home.
We don't really want to stop the show
But I thought that you might like to know
That the singers going to sing a song
And he wants you all to sing alone.
So let me introduce to you
The one and lonely Billy Dennison
And Erica Kropp's research support club band.

What would you think if I sang out of tune,
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song
And I'll try not to sing out of key,

Oh, She gets by with a little help from her friends,
Mm, She gets high with a little help from her friends,
Mm, She's gonna try with a little help from her friends.

What do we do when our boss is away,
Does it worry us to be alone?
How do we feel by the end of the day,
Are we sad because we're on our own?

No, We get by with a little help from our friends,
Mm, We get high with a little help from our friends,
Mm, We're gonna try with a little help from our friends.
Do we need anybody?
We need somebody to love.
Could it be anybody?
We want Erica Kropp to love.

(To the tune of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "With a Little Help From My Friends"; Lennon & McCartney)

About the author

Bill Dennison

Dr. Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr. Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.

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  • Lorna Londot 5 years ago

    I miss Erica every day. We helped each other thru the rough times of raising children and the fun times as well. I know she is up there watching all of us with a glass of red wine in her hands and the constant smile she always had for encouragement in all my endeavors. I miss you Erica very much. Love, Lorna.

  • Toni Lawson 5 years ago


    Thank you for sharing this post regarding Erica's Life Celebration. It was bittersweet for me. Her legacy continues as how she lived her life and gave to others inspires me to model the same.

    Toni Lawson

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