Friday, January 14, 2011
Matilda R. Wilson, 1883 - 1967
In our own community, we have watched for many decades the life of Mrs. Matilda R. Wilson. A large share of her 83 years was spent here. On Tuesday of last week, we received the sad news that she had died suddenly while in Belgium seeking the purchase of new horses for her farm.
Mrs. Wilson never sought publicity. Those in the newspaper business always had to seek her out. “You don’t want my picture again,” she would plead with photographers. But she would usually consent only because it may have benefited the cause she was pursuing, or to please other people in the picture.
SHE WAS A MODEST, somewhat shy woman. She could walk unnoticed down Rochester’s sidewalks. Even during recent years, she could be found making occasional visits to a local supermarket. No detail was too small for her attention. She felt there was no other way for a Thanksgiving turkey to be prepared than for the woman in the house to do it. So she did it.
Anecdotes about her life will continue to be told for years. Many Rochester people worked for her full or part time for decades. She knew many by their first names She seemed to appreciate even the smallest gesture of kindness. Like a high school girl, she would save cards and mementoes of memorable occasions, often pinning them on the wall.
One of the latest acts of kindness on her part which gained some publicity— probably against her wishes— was last fall when the pony belonging to a local family of five children was released by intruders from its pen on Halloween night, cruelly shot and left to die. Bus drivers for the Rochester schools started to raise money to buy a new pony (the children’s father was a part-time bus driver.)
Reading about the incident in The Clarion, Mrs. Wilson stopped in our office and said she would like to help, so we arranged a meeting. We were there when she led the children and their parents past the stalls down her farm’s long pony barn and onto the indoor arena where she presented one of her registered ponies to the wide-eyed youngsters.
The bus drivers brought the harness and hay and there was happiness in the home once more. “Take a picture of the pony and the children, not me.” she told the photographer. “They’re the important ones.” But finally she consented to having her picture taken— if she could stand behind the pony.
The ten million dollar gift of land and cash that she and her late husband, Alfred Wilson, donated to start Oakland University proved to be the most rewarding decision of her life. And it proved to be the most lavish gift that Rochester could every receive.
SHE THOROUGHLY enjoyed mingling with Oakland University students as she continued to live in her Sunset Terrace home on another part of the 1,400 acre estate. And the students appreciated their benefactress. Their move last week to have student fees boosted to finance a memorial in her name is an accurate indication of this appreciation.
Perhaps forgotten by some was the critical decision that had to be made concerning the post office location of Oakland University. The grounds straddle Pontiac Township and Avon Township boundaries. The decision was left to the Wilsons. “I have always considered Rochester as my home,” Mrs. Wilson is recalled saying. So Rochester became the home of Oakland University and the name of our community has become known across the nation, and even abroad. It would be difficult to place a dollar value on such a thing. Not all legacies can be measured in dollars.
The community of Rochester cannot expect to ever see another individual like Matilda Wilson. What we can expect to see are the fruits of her kindnesses and gifts that will multiply for untold decades to come.