Believing Firmly in the Importance of the Arts and Education
Born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1918, Marjorie Hollister Wilson was a woman with a formidable amount of energy. Many years before Title IX brought equal opportunities in athletics to women, Marjorie was a skier, a mountain climber, and a golfer. She had three older brothers, and she was determined to keep up with them and their cousins—and, whenever possible, surpass the boys.
When she was a young woman, Marjorie trained as a nurse. That’s how she met James M. Wilson, a young South Bend medical student, whom she married in 1942.
Marjorie’s family was the center of her life: her husband; their children James L. (“Sandy”), Nancy, and Christopher; her extended family and, later, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was a committed, loving wife and mother; as her son Sandy said, in his remarks at her funeral this past March, “she was the best mother that anyone could ever have.” That closeness to her family made the tragedy of 2004 all the harder to bear: Dr. Wilson and Christopher were killed in an automobile accident as they drove together with Marjorie to a family funeral in Ohio.
Marjorie stayed sharp as she aged, maintaining a considerable amount of independence. She continued to drive her own car until late in 2012, and played bridge with friends at St. Paul’s only a few days before her death.
As a philanthropist, Marjorie’s two areas of greatest passion were the arts and education. She had warm memories of a program in her hometown that helped children attend symphony rehearsals on a regular basis, encouraging those children to develop an interest in classical music. That memory informed her support of the South Bend Symphony, where she focused on increasing educational opportunities for young musicians. A longtime fan of South Bend Civic Theatre, Marjorie was one of a small, key group of donors who made it possible for the organization to move to its current home in the former Scottish Rite building—which includes the Wilson Mainstage, the theater’s largest performance space. Marjorie was also a dedicated supporter of the South Bend Public Education Foundation, continuing the work of her husband, who was the organization’s
co-founder and first president.
“Jim Wilson was a most remarkable man—a brilliant, independent, dedicated, and, dare I say it, blunt community leader,” says Rose Meissner, president of the Community Foundation. “I was always impressed that he treated me—a much younger female—as a colleague. He expected a lot and I worked hard to deliver. Once I met Marjorie, I understood why. She was every bit his match. They were definitely not a case of ‘opposites attract.’ It was a rare privilege to know them both.”
A quiet philanthropist, Marjorie did not need or want any ostentatious recognition. However, her generosity has had an enormous impact on St. Joseph County. Because of Marjorie and the Wilson family, many of our community’s arts and educational institutions are both more vibrant and more secure.