"A role model. My role model", expressed by young and old, nephews, nieces, old friends, new friends, contemporaries, casual acquaintances, lifelong friends. For any or all of the following reasons: her unselfish concern for others, her ever present warm, welcoming smile, robust sense of humor, social poise, physical attractiveness, keen intelligence, strong convictions. How do I know ? Over three hundred letters and phone calls following her passing told me so.
She met a challenge with strength and courage, touched the lives of countless others, quietly and modestly did good deeds for others, reached out into the community to assist those less privileged.
In more simple terms, she was a wonderful wife, mother, grandmother, and yes, great
MARIAN RUTH SIGLER
Marian Ruth Sigler was somewhat of a nomad in her early years. Born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on September 21, 1915, she moved at the age of about four to spend a very short time in Oklahoma before settling down in Kansas City, Missouri. These moves are explained by the fact that her father, Clarence Hartley Sigler, was a traveling salesman for the Burroughs Company and went where he was sent. Happily, he had enough time in Sioux Falls to court and marry a local piano teacher, Helen Moltaire. He did not have far to go because Sioux Falls was right over the state line from his home and birthplace in Iowa where his father was a Baptist minister. When anyone inquired about his familial background he would name several countries, among them England, Scotland, and Germany, the last named via the Pennsylvania "Dutch".
Helen Moltaire's last name was coined by Helen's father on coming to America from Norway. His name had been Mølsterteigen which simply identified him as a citizen of the place called Mølster. Realizing that might provide spelling as well as pronunciation problems in his new country, and being an admirer of Voltaire, he amended his last name to Moltaire. Helen's Norwegian parents lived with the Sigler family over a period of many years, testimony to both Helen's and Clarence's exceptional goodwill and filial piety. Marian had a great fondness for her grandmother and, I am sure, sought to emulate her in many ways. It was this grandmother who loaned us $300.00 interest free after our marriage, enabling us to acquire our first few pieces of furniture. We paid it back $25.00 a month over a year.
When, in the 1960s, we visited the Norwegian town of Voss, the ancestral home of many of the Mølsterteigens, we met one of the family, a woman operating a coffee shop. She was in the kitchen when we arrived but when she heard that an American relative had come by, she rushed out to greet us and immediately headed for Marian, exclaiming with gestures how the upper half of Marian's face was clearly, definitely that of a "Mølsterteigen". Voss, as a railroad hub, was heavily bombed by the Germans in World War II but restored were the picturesque, small parish church as well as many other buildings.
Clarence Hartley Sigler quickly became a successful and recognized Kansas Citian. At the height of his business career he was Vice President and trust officer of the First National Bank. One side business interest was joint ownership of a Packard auto dealership. Another was a small enterprise that made possible carbon based paper copies.
Clarence and Helen added two Kansas City bred sons to the two daughters born in Sioux Falls. Marian had an older sister, Susan. Married to Elmer "Bud" West, Susan was the mother of two boys who became highly regarded leaders in the business and cultural life of Kansas City, one a Harvard trained lawyer, David, and the other, Robert, CEO of the Butler Manufacturing Company. Kansas City admired them for the same reasons it admired their grandfather
Clarence and Helen named their two sons Clarence Hartley Sigler,Jr. and John Robert Sigler. Some might find it hard to understand why "Clarence" had to be passed on. Understandably, Clarence Jr. became known in his lifetime as "Sonny" or "Sig". John Robert was named by his two older sisters who were given that responsibility by their parents. The "Hartley" in Clarence Hartley Sigler lives on as the middle name of two of his grandsons, Robert Hartley West and Nils Hartley Wessell. Sonny had a very successful career with Uniroyal, retiring as a vice president and dying too young. John Robert was, and continues to be, a real estate agent and broker in Kansas City. Between them they sired nine children of whom eight were boys ! The one girl, Karen, daughter of "Sonny", became especially close to Marian during Karen's years as an undergraduate at Tufts. A separate tome would be required to due justice to the nine children and the several grandchildren of Sonny and John. Someone in that generation should compile their history.
Marian was fond of all of these several nephews and one niece. She had the capacity to gain rapport with the young. They recognized that her interest was real and not contrived.
Many of these nephews and nieces were present for a Sigler family reunion in Kansas City in !992.
Bobbie Wessell McCuskey and husband Bill were the stars of the evenings' entertainment. A
highlight of the reunion was a trip through the old family homestead, made possible by the good
nature of the current owners. Old family photographs assembled by the Kansas City contingent
provoked nostalgia for the older generations and provided a learning experience for the younger
Growing up in Kansas City
My knowledge of Marian's childhood and early youth is limited by what Marian told me over the years, and what in the late winter of my senility I can recall, for I first met her after she had graduated from college and was a Brown University graduate student. Of one thing I am certain; she had a happy childhood with many friends. In the intervening years these childhood friends became lifetime friends. The same can be said of the friendships she made in college. I always admired this state of affairs for I could not make the same claims. Happily, our two children's records in this regard are the same as their mother's. But Marian and I did have the happy and rewarding experience of making new friends during our early years of marriage who, too, became lifelong friends of both of us.
Several years into our marriage we were discussing the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts when Marian allowed as to how she was an Eagle Scout, having achieved that exalted status after successfully constructing a latrine in the woods using the only available natural materials at hand. I had been a tenderfoot Boy Scout for two weeks.
When we were married in Kansas City in 1938 there were present only three people I really knew, my father, the best man, and the bride. As a result, the receiving line consisted repeatedly of strangers who let me know that I was getting as a wife someone I probably did not deserve. This did not bother me for I had long ago come to the same conclusion.
But I am getting ahead of my story.
After graduating from a Kansas City public high school she spent two years in Kansas City Junior College. The award of a Wellesley Kansas City alumnae scholarship made possible something she had long aspired to, a chance to experience what the east coast offered in education and living. On arrival at Wellesley she was informed that Wellesley could not possibly give her full credit for the courses she had taken at the junior college in Kansas City and therefor she would have to plan on spending three years at Wellesley to earn a bachelor's degree. This got her hackles up and fired what I much later came to call her Norwegian stubbornness. She let it be known in no uncertain terms that she expected to meet Wellesley's requirements in two, not three years. Interestingly, many of her lifetime friends had been fellow transfer students to Wellesley. Three of them dubbed themselves the "Three Graces" and would meet at least annually for mini-reunions.
Wellesley figuratively had to "eat crow" for, not only did she meet all baccalaureate requirements in two years, but was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Amusingly, I did not know she was a Phi Bete until after we were engaged when a classmate of hers who was a friend of one of my sister's casually "let the cat out of the bag". Again, an example of her modesty. It was the start of years of evidence that she was a lot smarter than I was. Her loyalty to and devotion to Wellesley, in spite of the snobbish greeting she received on arrival as a transfer student, never faltered over the years.
She graduated from Wellesley in 1936 and that fall entered Brown with a fellowship as a graduate student in psychology. Some time that September, a date I cannot give an exact number to but one I will never forget. I was alone in the Psychology Department library when the phone rang. The departmental secretary was off somewhere so I answered it. The caller asked for a particular professor. In a voice loud enough to be heard throughout the building, I inquired if anyone knew where he was. Suddenly out of nowhere a gorgeous creature appeared and informed me that the professor had left for the day. I am sure my jaw dropped at the sight of her. Trying to regain my composure, I thanked her and, as discreetly and as quickly as I could, found out her name, Marian Sigler. Wow ! How could a serious graduate student be that sexy ! I was smitten.
Smart enough to play my cards with great care, I feigned no special interest. I even went so far as to invite another female graduate student at the same time to dinner, making a threesome. I could afford this because I was a "rich" third year graduate student and nearby restaurants charged only about 75 cents per entree. I was "rich" by graduate student standards because I had a part-time job as resident psychologist at a hospital for children with neurological or behavior problems, a hospital associated with the Brown Psychology Department.
But then, predictably, I got reasons to worry. An assistant professor in the Psychology Department was clearly making a "run for her" as I soon discovered when she would turn me down for a date because of "previous commitments". To make matters worse, a graduate student in Mathematics was showing interest in her also.
This went on until April when I realized that I could not dally any longer. I decided I had to go for it all, win or lose. On my birthday (April 14) just the two of us trekked down College Hill to the center of Providence to a Jewish delicatessen, Harry's in Pie Alley. After each of us ordered a beer and a hot pastrami, I screwed up my courage and blurted out, "Obviously I am in love with you". She didn't seem to think it was obvious but seemed pleased. She didn't protest. I walked back up College Hill on air.
Not irrelevant to my admiration of her was her sophisticated knowledge of baseball. That same April we took in a Boston Braves game. I did not have to explain a single play to her. In later years she was an ardent Boston Red Sox fan and suffered annually from "Wait until next year". Most recently she followed closely the fates of the Florida Marlins and the Atlanta Braves. While celebrating the Marlins' win of the World Series in 1997, she joined the disillusioned when the team was then "deconstructed", many of the best players being auctioned off to lower the salary budget for 1998.
By June I got her commitment to marry me before she went home to Kansas City for the summer. Her family, understandably, wanted to see at first hand who this guy was so a visit to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where the Sigler family was spending a summer vacation, was arranged. To get there I took my first airplane flight, in a DC3 from Newark, New Jersey, to Chicago. Marian and her father and mother met me at the airport to drive me to Lake Geneva. My stomach was churning because of air sickness, to the point I had to ask her father to let me out of the car near an empty field to see if I could throw up. Happily, the stop seemed to calm my innards and the
problem departed. However, it was not the kind of introduction to my prospective parents-in-law I would have planned.
Marian's two brothers, aged 13 and 18, were waiting to greet me but with ulterior motives. They had the impression that I was a practical joker so they tried a few tricks on me. At the dinner table my glass was designed to spill water when I lifted it to drink. A hinged fork was at my place which was intended to collapse with food on it when picked up. Fortunately for me, I was acquainted with both items and did not fall for either ruse. I was as pleased as they were disappointed.
I smile now when I recall that that first evening I arranged to get my prospective father-in-law alone on the porch. With enough but not total confidence, I informed him that I had "serious interest" in his daughter. This was clearly not news to him but he did ask me quite directly what I thought I would have to earn to support her. Now with full confidence I said, "Eighteen hundred". That, by the way, was for the year not the month, the starting salary for newly minted Ph.Ds. He showed no emotion, neither approval nor disapproval. But my duty had been done. At least he didn't tell his daughter to look elsewhere.
That fall Marian returned for her second year at Brown. I went off to rejoin my mentor, Leonard Carmichael, who had left Brown a year earlier to become Dean of the Faculty at the University of Rochester. Prior to his departure from Brown he invited me to go with him to Rochester. I accepted. Then to my consternation he shortly thereafter called me to his office to say that the man I worked for at the children's hospital had informed him that I really wanted to stay at Brown and therefor his offer of a fellowship at Rochester was withdrawn. I was speechless. A year later, however, Carmichael renewed his offer to come to Rochester which I accepted. Had this uninvited intrusion not occurred, I would not have been at Brown the year I met and courted Marian. That was a close call. The evil I thought had been done me was the greatest good fortune of my life.
In November I paid a quick visit to Providence from Rochester to give my beloved an engagement ring. But my stay at Rochester was brief. In December of 1937 I was offered and accepted a job at the University of Michigan as field director of the University's Child Guidance Institute, to start in January of 1938. Instead of the $1,800.00 I told Marian's father I would need to support her, I would be paid $3,000.00 ! The job did mean, however, that I had to commute between Ann Arbor and Rochester (nine hours each way by car) in order to complete the requirements for my Ph.D.
But this is a story about Marian, not about me. At Brown she teamed with the renowned psychologist, Walter Hunter, on a research project in the field of visual acuity. Their findings were her Master's dissertation and became known in the psychological literature as the Hunter-Sigler effect. For the sophisticated, they demonstrated that in vision intensity times time is a constant or IT = C. She was invited to return to Brown for a third year to work toward the Ph.D. I had done her a professional disservice by getting her to agree to marry me instead. I would have come to be known professionally as Marian Sigler's husband.
The Fifty Nine Years
The wedding date was set for Thursday, September 15. I arranged to get a long weekend off from my job in Michigan, from Wednesday to Monday ! My father came west by train from New Jersey, the best man, Jim Head, my closest college friend, from his junior year at the Yale Medical School. Marian's sister, Susan, was matron of honor. Susan's husband, Bud West, blackened the soles of my half soled shoes so that when I knelt as required in the ceremony, they would appear to be new.
The night before the wedding I shared a bedroom in the Sigler home with Marian's younger brother, fourteen year old John. Apparently we were so noisy exchanging and guffawing over somewhat earthy stories when we should have been getting to sleep that Marian's mother had to knock on the door and tell us to shut up. John's stories, it is worth noting, were ones he had learned that summer in Boyscout camp.
Our prayers, for rain shortly after the ceremony and reception ended, were answered. Thus we could depart expeditiously for Ann Arbor by way of an overnight in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, a full(!) thirty five miles from Kansas City. There we came upon a hardware salesmen's convention at our hotel but we were not distracted.
My job at the University required me to travel the state, consulting with juvenile judges, school teachers and administrators, and social workers, with respect to dealing with specific problem cases. To my delight Marian insisted on going with me wherever my duties took me. This meant most weekdays were spent away from Ann Arbor. In Ann Arbor we rented a two room apartment (living room with a convertible bed and a kitchen). If Marian's commitment to marrying me was ever tested, this was it. Our mutual marital happiness overcame all. Early she willingly made the concessions which marked all of our married life. Something real and sentimental came full circle when many years later grandson Brian and Kris were married in the church next door to our former apartment, the church whose early Sunday morning bells had provoked me, even as a minister's son, to express unchurchy epithets for their interruption of my late sleep.
Even though we constantly moved about the state, we saw to it that we had fun. One city where I had business was Monroe, just over the state line from Toledo. Ohio. Toledo was properly famous for "Mrs. Smith's Cafeteria" and burlesque. We took advantage of both. Marian's first burlesque in her lifetime featured Ann Corio, the reigning queen of burlesque at the time. We were both much impressed with Corio's "artistry". Marian threatened to emulate some of her gyrations back at the hotel, but greater wisdom took over. About twenty years later we "took in" a performance by the queen of New Orleans burlesque, one Candy Cane. We agreed that Candy was more of a gymnast than an artist. This confirms that Marian's reputation for earthy humor had a long history. At least eighty percent of the letters of tribute to her I received after her death mentioned her sense of humor, equaled, however, by references to her engaging smile. Obviously, they went together.
January 1, 1939, marked our first New Year's Day of our married life. Deciding to sleep late in our living room convertible bed, we were rudely awakened by a knock on the door. We hastened to get out of bed, closed up the bed, and flung on our dressing gowns. Greeting us as I opened the door was my boss and his wife! Marian demonstrated her savoir faire.
That month was also a critical decision making month. I was offered by Leonard Carmichael, my former mentor in graduate school and Dean at Rochester, multiple positions at Tufts where he was now president. We, and I stress the "We", accepted and at age twenty four I was the designated new Tufts Dean of Men, Director of Admissions, and Assistant Professor of Psychology. I am appalled that I had the gall and Marian had the confidence in me that dictated our saying "Yes". I turned twenty five in April and Marian twenty four in the September of our arrival at Tufts. In retrospect our ages turned out to be a great advantage in getting the warm acceptance and friendship of undergraduates. After all, we were not much older than they. Many of those undergraduates became our lifetime friends as did two other couples of our age also new to Tufts that fall, the Kennedys and Meads.
Undergraduates were our first babysitters. On March 4, 1941 we were blessed with the birth of our first child, Roberta Sue. It is hard to believe that by becoming a grandmother in 1996 she made great grandparents of Marian and me. Bobbie, as she came to be known, was, naturally, the cutest, brightest baby ever born. The subsequent years attest to the fact that she inherited her best genes from her mother. She became the same loving, unselfish mother her mother was and combined most successfully motherhood with a career as a teacher of mathematics and computing. Innovative as a teacher and educator, she has given papers at meetings of mathematics teachers from Boston to San Diego. She is the only Wessell with an earned degree from Tufts, a Master's in mathematics and education. Among Bobbie's first words to me after her mother died were, "She was not only my mother; she was my best friend". With Marian her own family always came first much as she was devoted to the many people who made up the Tufts family.
But back to the forties. Short circuited though a fulltime academic career had been, getting back to New England made it possible for Marian to remain involved with psychology part-time by serving as a reader in the Wellesley Psychology Department and as research assistant to Dr.Jerome Bruner of Harvard University, an international figure in the field of Social Relations. Her interest in and loyalty to Wellesley translated early to a five year term as class president. Many years later she served terms as class representative on the College Alumnae Council, and as such led her class to new records in fundraising.
One of the undergraduates from the 1940s reported indirectly to us fifty years later that "all the undergraduate men were in love with Marian". Three classes from the 1940s dedicated their 50th Reunion yearbooks to us in the 1990s (the classes of 1942,1943. and 1945). In all cases the citation reads "To Marian and Nils" in that order. Two are as follows:
"In our time at Tufts two clear-eyed, accomplished people, a good bit younger than our parents and a great bit wiser than we, walked tall upon our war-shadowed Hill. As World War II became the chief reality of our young lives Marian and Nils Wessell quietly lit the campus landscape with their brilliant smiles, their wit, confidence and concern".
"To Marian and Nils Wessell - the Class of 1943 - your first class and your best class - salutes you with respect and affection on the occasion of your fifty years of encouraging us, leading us, despairing about us, laughing with us, supporting us, and understanding us and with our special gratitude for what you have done for each of us and for Tufts".
Particularly blessed and fortunate we were during our years at Tufts in that faculty colleagues, fellow administrators, and trustees became so often our good friends first and our professional associates second. The list is long. As a starter, and limited to members of the administration, it reads "Tredinnicks, Meads, Millers, deBurlos, Stearns, Tiltons, Kelleys, Wolfs, Haymans, Campbells". The faculty list is even longer. I dare not be specific except to say that especially unusual and warm were friendships at the social level with faculty with whom I differed on matters academic.
In 1943 we were blessed by the birth of a second child, this time a son, Nils Hartley Wessell, known as "Nick" in the family. Of course, he, too, was one of the most unusual babies ever born. As a Belmont Hill School student he had placed one end of a string on Medford, Massachusetts, the home of Tufts, and stretched it across the country to find the college or university furthest from Tufts. Reflecting his independent streak, he explained that he wanted to be an undergraduate where he "would be free to criticize the administration". His choice was Stanford. As the result of a visit with Marian and me to the Soviet Union at age 17 in 1960, he became interested in Soviet affairs which resulted years later in a Ph.D in Soviet politics and positions in government and academia. His brains, intellectual curiosity, and poise in situations that would give most people stage fright, are from his mother. He is the father of still another Nils Wessell, Nils Walker Wessell, nicknamed Kerry. At age 12 Kerry's future is pretty much ahead of him.
Less than parenthetically, when we returned to Tufts from our visit to the Soviet Union we were asked to report our experiences to the annual dinner meeting of the trustees and faculty. My turn was first for which I got polite applause. Marian followed me and her account brought down the house. It was the substance of what she said as well as a reflection of the affection the audience had for her.
While I sidetracked Marian's potentially distinguished professional career as a psychologist by marrying her, she earned unparalleled respect and admiration as a member of the Tufts community which she served for twenty seven years. She was not just a "dutiful wife", she touched the lives of hundreds if not thousands of students, alumni, and faculty.
She has earned a unique kind of immortality for her good works, remembered affectionately and appreciatively by so many. A role model indeed.
She was as close to the Tufts community as the First Lady as she had been as the wife of a "wet
behind the ears" young dean. On Alumni Day in 1956, after being the First Lady for only two and
one half years, the Tufts Alumni Association presented her with the following citation:
MARIAN SIGLER WESSELL
"First Lady of Tufts University. The Wellesley Alumnae Magazine quotes you, in describing your life as the wife of a University President, 'the fun and interests and satisfactionsare great. I'm a lucky gal'.
The friendly informality of that quotation describes you perfectly. Your friendliness, your contagious laughter, the warmth of your personality make you the charming hostess that you are; endeared by students, faculty and alumni who have the privilege of knowing you. An educational institution needs a person such as you on its campus.
Your distinguished husband has received many well deserved honors but we, your friends, are confident that some of the credit for his success belongs to you.
For your influence in making Tufts a happier place, the Tufts Alumni Council gives its most sincere thanks, and extends to you best wishes for many, many more years of happiness and of service to the Tufts Community.
We are lucky in having a 'lucky gal' as our First Lady."
JUNE 9, 1956
And for ten more years she lived to the full the role described above. She was actively involved as a volunteer in support of both University affairs and Greater Boston charitable enterprises, serving, for example, on the Ladies Committee of the New England Medical Center and as advisor to an undergraduate sorority. Frequent receptions for students and dinner parties for faculty and other guests in the President's House and sponsorship of a faculty wives' book review group added to her acquaintance with those segments of the Tufts community and its appreciation of her. Invitations to student parties were commonplace and always accepted when possible. At commencement time each year she planned and presided at special events for honorary degree recipients, trustees, and other guests. Routinely she served as hostess and guide to the famous and near famous and their spouses who came to the campus (e.g. Andrew Wyeth, John Kennedy, Arthur Rubenstein, Adlai Stevenson, John Ciardi, Vannevar Bush, Robert Frost, Lyndon Johnson, Carl Sandburg, Admiral Arleigh Burke, Earl Warren, General Curtis LeMay, Bobby Kennedy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, etc.,etc.). Probably her favorite in the above category was Lady Bird Johnson, a charming and gracious lady who had briefed herself in advance about many aspects of Tufts. By contrast her husband was the rudest, most ego-centered honorary degree recipient whose citation I had the privilege of reading to any assembled commencement audience.
If all this was not enough, Marian supervised the staff of the President's House, the nuts and bolts among her responsibilities. She deserved to be credited with a good half or more of my salary. In our day compensation reserved for the wife of the university president was unheard of.
But again, with her strong encouragement, we arranged to have fun separate from our collegiate duties. This included world wide travel in our later years and simple family vacation excursions in our younger years. An unsolicited Carnegie foundation travel grant took us on a three month trip around the world in 1965. Always she either already had, or studiously acquired, intimate knowledge of the places we visited. I am still much impressed with an incident that occurred during an automobile tour of France. Suddenly she saw the highway sign for the next village, one that I had never heard of and one that maybe didn't even make the map, and exclaimed, "Oh, we must stop here for lunch. It has the best cassoulet in France". Except for the southern halves of South America and Africa and mainland China there was not much we missed.
Classical music, art, and the novel she loved throughout her life. In her last years when her mobility was restricted they were a special source of solace, especially tapes and CDs of her favorite composers and "talking books".
For the family as a whole, and eventually for five generations, our great joy was, and still is, an island in Casco Bay off the coast of Maine, Chebeague Island. It became so first and foremost because of Marian's love and devotion for it, for the time and energy she spent in making it a happy place for all of us. We were introduced to it in 1951 by Jan and Marian Friis, he the Tufts Director of Grounds and Buildings. Marian Friis had spent summers on the island from the age of four and as an adult ran a sailing camp there. Some look skeptical when I refer to "five generations". Add them up: (1) her parents and my mother, (2) the two of us, (3) the two of our children,(4) three grandsons, and (5) our great granddaughter, Caitlin. Almost all of those in (4) and (5) have spent some part of every summer of their lives on Chebeague. To many of us it is "home". While we cannot qualify, to use the local terminology, as "island" people, we hopefully come as close to it as "off island" people can, thanks to the many wonderful, caring, and close friends we have from all ages in the island year round population.
At the same time we made close friends of summer residents. One special group came to be known as the "Eightsome":to Shutes, two Layngs, two McLeans, and two Wessells. Our get-togethers grew to include offseason events, such as football games at Lafayette (three of the men were graduates), Tufts, and Bowdoin (one graduate). Two of the "girls" were Wellesley graduates, a college with no football team. Inevitably with time, the eightsome became a foursome.
The island was an especially welcome place to get to after full and busy months on campus. It was two and a half hours away by car to the island ferry. On the island all of us were known by our first names, even to the island very young. Island people sent a large number of the letters of tribute to Marian after she died. The "Red House" (so named by grandson Kerry) we have owned for forty six years is now the summer reunion place for the three younger generations. Coming there they are coming home. An experienced swimmer and happy sailor, Marian enjoyed to the full summer days on the island. One contemporary of Marian's, close friend Trudy Putnam, still sails.
Marian was an equal partner and source of balanced judgment in all family decisions, including especially those involving my career. The real test came when in 1965 I started to weigh the pros and cons of retirement from Tufts. I had no clear idea of what I might do next. We were both in our early fifties. After thirteen years in the presidency I felt both the institution and I could well profit from a change. The final decision was reached with Marian's strong concurrence, as difficult a decision emotionally for her as for me. Tufts was a family of which we were very much a part. Fortunately, our children were out of the nest. Had they not been, we would have faced the almost impossible task of convincing them that we were doing the right thing.
When our decision was made public there was an outcry of protest. We could not believe the outpouring of appeals to "say it isn't so". Marian was a critical reason for such responses. To say she was widely loved is, if anything, an understatement. Tears streamed down her face as we left the President's House for the last time in September of 1966. Family friend (and dean) Dick Kelley drove us to South Station for the train to New York.
On the lighter side concerning our leavetaking of Tufts, we were guests at a very small party in the home of the chairman of the board of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Present also were the Massachusetts governor and his wife, and Eliot Richardson and his wife. (Years later Eliot was in the center of the Watergate storm after refusing, as Attorney General, to act on Nixon's orders to fire the independent counsel.) Marian had fallen a few days earlier over a telephone wire in the kitchen in the President's House, sustaining an ankle broken in three places. When Eliot's wife, shocked to see Marian on crutches, asked, "Oh what did you do, dear ?" With a straight face Marian replied, "Sky diving". She got in return, "Will you ever jump again ?".
We had at least been careful enough to insure a year's delay between announcing my resignation in 1965 and its implementation in 1966. Our spirits during that period were buttressed by a number of serious inquiries as to my availability. I am more impressed now than I was then when I accepted the position of president of the Institute for Educational Development in New York. Even though it was an "offspring" of the prestigious Educational Testing Service, its assets consisted of a bank loan of $150,000.00. What a test of loyalty and confidence for a wife. I suspect that she had more confidence in me than I had in myself. What a spur that is to success and self esteem.
I chose the presidency of IED for a simple reason. Its purpose was to aid and encourage the cooperation of business with education in the interest of education. The chairman of its board did comment that he was impressed with my willingness to "exchange a battleship (Tufts) for a raft (IED)". But any uncertainty about the raft was dissipated when in the course of a year we had acquired over $1,000,000.00 in grants and contracts. Marian knew what the odds were but still voted for the challenge.
So we moved from the fourteen room President's House at Tufts with live-in help to a two and a half room New York apartment. We were excited that it was a penthouse atop a twenty story building on East 84th Street until our first planned cocktail party on the patio. In arranging the outdoor furniture I saw that the patio needed hosing down. That accomplished, our guests arrived and cocktails were poured. To Marian's and my horror, large globs of soot almost immediately landed in our drinks. With Marian setting the example, we all laughed, waved goodbye to the laundry drying on the roofs of nearby buildings, and went inside.
Having the major responsibility for obtaining the needed financial resources for IED, I wore out the carpets in every foundation office in New York City. Serendipitously, I happened to call on the president of the Alfred P.Sloan Foundation just on the eve of his retirement when his board was looking for a successor. Out of this chance encounter came an offer to succeed him. Marian was as joyful but not as unbelieving as I was. Less than two years after leaving Tufts I had an entirely new responsibility we both savored, giving away money, someone else's money, instead of having to raise it.
A whole new world opened up to us. Having attended a conference in Sterling Forest while I was still with IED, we remembered that on the first morning there deer were looking in the sliding glass doors of our motel, a mere hour and a half drive from Manhattan. So one of the first decisions we made after joining the Sloan Foundation was to scout for a weekend retreat. We found a building lot in the woods near where the deer had greeted us and had a simple Tech-built house erected on it. Marian filled it with Scandinavian furniture. It became a joy in our lives. Each Friday afternoon she would take the bus from the westside New York terminal in the early afternoon, pick up the car we left nearby our new abode and fill it with weekend goodies and other delights. She would then meet my later bus to start another joyous weekend. The cocktail hour would begin with my heartfelt toast to her. On Thanksgiving Eve the McCuskey clan would arrive from Stafford, near Philadelphia. With Nick joining us when he was in the United States and not the Soviet Union, turkey and touch football on the seldom used road outside our dwelling were the next day's menu. We had bought Brian and Andrew real football helmets which they slept in as well as played in. Marian acquired the name, Mormor, Swedish for mother's mother, the name the McCuskey grandsons called her the rest of her life. It signified love and warmth and good nature and generosity. Sterling Forest was a wonderful complement to Chebeague Island, Maine, but of course not its equivalent. Both places spelled "Mormor".
Meanwhile. Marian, now having no assumed or real responsibilities requiring time and energy as the wife of a foundation president, sought out chances to be useful to society in Manhattan. One that gave her great satisfaction and my high regard and respect was helping minority students in an East Harlem junior high school improve their reading skills by one-on-one tutoring. Such a school embodied all the negatives one could imagine. But she persevered. Most of her charges were African American. There was a Chinese American set of sisters who clearly adored her.
One of her African American students deserves special mention. Getting off the subway at Bloomingdales one day she felt that someone was following her, stalking her. She tried to walk briskly, straight ahead. Suddenly a hand was on her shoulder. She turned, more frightened than calm, to find a tall African American young man facing her. He said, plain tively, "Don't you remember me, Mrs.Wessell ? I'm . . . . ", giving his name. Some years earlier he had been one of the junior high school students she had helped.
In contrast to her role as a reading tutor, she was elected a member of the Cosmopolitan Club. Its members, all women, were required to have demonstrated success in an intellectual endeavor as well as a commitment to public service. Typical of her, she felt she did not deserve the honor. Besides being impressed with her election, I was delighted to find that the club served the best martinis in Manhattan. It was located halfway between my office in the International Building of Rockefeller Center and our apartment on East 79th Street to which we had moved from our 84th Street penthouse. Addicted to the half hour walk between office and home, I found it easy to convince Marian to meet at her Club for drinks and dinner at the close of the day. It was a bit amusing at the same time that, as only the husband of a member, I had to establish my credentials on entering. My credentials were my marriage to Marian.
Wellesley alumnae affairs also were high on her list of interests. There was an active Greater New York contingent to which she devoted time and energy. This involvement enabled her to renew friendships from her undergraduate days. One such renewal became one of her closest friends in her later years.
Throughout her life she enjoyed and was knowledgeable about classical music and art. Manhattan was a gold mine of opportunity in this regard. Now she had the time, free of the duties and obligations of a university president's wife, to devote to these interests. She could walk to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick, and the Guggenheim. Lincoln Center was a crosstown bus away, Broadway a little further. Once again we agreed that we were in the right place at the right time.
Having a Norwegian background on her mother's side, she became committed to getting American college students knowledgeable through first hand experience in the Scandinavian countries. This resulted in her election to the board of the Scandinavian Seminar which arranged to have students from this country spend a semester in Scandinavian folk high schools. The folk high school is a unique institution, sort of a cross between the American college and the American secondary school. To insure immersion in the foreign culture, one student only from the United States was assigned to any particular folk high school. On one of our visits to Sweden we spent several days in such a school. Marian's Norwegian grandparents, of whom she was most fond, would have been proud and pleased.
A much appreciated bonus to my job as a foundation president which Marian enjoyed tremendously was the semi-annual meetings of a "non-organization" consisting of the presidents of the fourteen major American foundations. Wives were included. Twice in my eleven year tenure as president of the Sloan Foundation we met at the Rockefeller Foundation's villa in Bellagio, Italy, one of the most beautiful spots on earth.
Other interesting and charming locales in the United States were also meeting place venues. Prior to one of the Bellagio sessions we visited son Nick who was spending a year at the University of Moscow researching his Ph.D. dissertation.
With my final retirement only a few years off, we became concerned that it would be wise to plan early. By coincidence at about the same time Edie and Russ deBurlo, he a vice president of Tufts during my years as president, spent a weekend with us in Sterling Forest and told us tales of an island off the west coast of Florida to which they had been endeared, starting with Edie's going there as a child. They offered to make a reservation for us the next March which we gladly accepted. That started many happy winter vacations on Sanibel Island and eventually six months a year there after my retirement in 1979.
We started with buying a condominium which we paid for by selling our place in Sterling Forest and shipping its furniture south. After two years of retirement winters on Sanibel we decided we would like a house rather than a condo. Once again we were attracted by woods, a still to be developed tract on the Gulf of Mexico isolated from the hurly-burly of everyday life. We drew up the plans ourselves and moved in in the fall of 1981. For a while were "three island" people - Chebeague, Manhattan, and Sanibel. Marian became a super-sheller on Sanibel. Her impressive collections have adorned our living rooms on both Sanibel and now at Bentley Village, the lifecare retirement community in Naples, Florida, to which we moved from Sanibel in 1988. Until our leavetaking, Sanibel for family and friends was the winter time complement to Chebeague (but not the equivalent - no place could be). Who made it warm and inviting and fun ? Marian, of course.
This leads me to comment about the label "homemaker". It sometimes carries a negative connotation, describing someone who spends her time making beds and baking cookies, vacuuming and mopping, with no broader interests than these. This is not what I mean when I say Marian was a homemaker par excellence. Every place we lived bore evidence of her love of family, her warm friendships, her good taste. Her heart was in her home and family.
Over all these years, years at Tufts, years in New York, years on Sanibel, years in Bentley Village, she made new close, devoted friends and lost no old friends. Witness that some of her closest friendships over those years were made in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s and continued until her death. The twenty seven years at Tufts were the most rewarding of our lives. The letters of tribute to her came from people of all ages and walks of life, from people who had known her since childhood and from people first met in the last year of her life. And they all said the same thing.
Her friendships made at Tufts were kept warm and close because each year since our departure in 1966 individual Tufts classes invited us to join them at their reunions. Added to this happy circumstance was the fact that alumni sought us out no matter where we lived. March in Florida was particularly popular ! They often made plain that they wanted to see Marian as much as they wanted to see me.
In January of 1988 we said goodbye to Sanibel and moved into Bentley Village in Naples, a wonderful lifecare retirement community. There we spent our last ten years together. Concerned about friendships for the future we found our concern immediately dissipated. We made new, close, and highly respected friendships with many of our contemporary fellow residents. These new friends have been most thoughtful and supportive following Marian's passing.
Wellesley alumnae affairs, bridge and good friends kept Marian busy and loving life at Bentley. As the Class of 1936 representative she led the class to set new records in fundraising and went back to the college until her last years to Alumnae Council meetings and class reunions. How blessed once again we were and I am.
Her reputation as a planner and hostess at social events perhaps started with parties for students, faculty and university guests at Tufts. Most remarked upon, however, from the Tufts years was the wedding for daughter Bobbie in 1964. Marian arranged for a large and colorful tent to be erected on the patio behind the President's House. Perfect weather made possible outdoor dancing on a platform erected on the lawn between the house and the university chapel, slightly up a hill, in which the ceremony took place. Out of town guests were put up in university dormitories, available because the academic year had just closed. An elaborate rehearsal dinner was held at a downtown Boston private club. The common comment was, "I have been to many beautiful, colorful weddings, but this outdoes them all".
Years later, on our first April Fools Day at Bentley Village in 1988, Marian demonstrated she had not lost her touch as a party planner and hostess. Fellow residents were invited to come as they wished, dressed sedately or informally, hilariously or conservatively. She was well rewarded, for some were in black tie and long dresses, others came attired in sandwich boards on which they reported what they knew of our past (not necessarily complimentary), still others in costumes appropriate to Halloween. Hilarity reigned. The private dining room in the West Clubhouse, decorated with signs such as "There is no fool like an old fool" and "A fool and his money are soon parted", had never been host to its equal. Two local clown entertainers kept people laughing. For years thereafter the party was still remarked upon.
Two of our own anniversary celebrations Marian planned and executed deserve special mention. One was also in 1988, marking 50 years since our wedding day. We went "whole hog" in hosting a special dinner party. Since we were on Chebeague Island at the time, we reserved the new island ferry boat to take ourselves and our guests to a Portland harborside restaurant. Most guests were fellow summer residents of the island. We accommodated others by arranging overnight stays on the island with friends. Still others we picked up en route to the restaurant from a mainland marina. Grandsons Brian and Andrew served as bartenders on the boat during the cruise to Portland. Bobbie had prepared gourmet hors d'oeuvre to go with the drinks. The boat was gayly decorated. As we neared the restaurant dock a double rainbow appeared off the stern of our party boat. Wonder of wonders!
Marian had, of course, planned the event in detail, perhaps even to the double rainbow. She was definitely responsible for the harpist who played favorite and romantic tunes at dinner. These included a sentimental Swedish folk song we had first learned in Sweden back in 1960, entitled "The first time I saw you". Friends from the days before we were married as well as more recent ones offered toasts. Laughter and warm feelings marked the whole evening. Then back aboard the boat for a return to Chebeague. Beverages were again available but apparently most people had reached their full quotas before departing the restaurant. I have never seen the equal of that party.
The second anniversary party deserving special mention was held at Bentley in the private dining room in the East Club house. It took notice of my 80th birthday in 1994. Unknown to me Marian had hired a belly dancer to come in and serenade me. By chance the dancer's presence in scanty garb was noted by top management with signs of consternation as she waited outside the room to be introduced. Once inside she did her thing and then insisted I join her in her routine. With great modesty I must report that I got as much applause as she did. An equal highlight of the evening was a skit put on by the five McCuskeys (Bobbie, Bill, Brian, Kris, and Andrew). It was built around the role of number 4 in my life, a reference I frequently made over the protests of all captive listeners. But this time it brought down the house. Marian had a solo harpist entertain us during dinner. Arranging such events could have been a second career for Marian had she elected to follow that path.
I loved her, adored her, admired her.
Nils Y. Wessell
Starting early in our marriage I would read our favorite poems aloud, poems by Alfred Noyes,
Yeats, Shelley, Coleridge, Scott, Keats, Kipling, Robert Browning, Burns, Masefield, Sandburg,
Byron, Wordsworth. Tennyson, Frost, Henley, Longfellow, etc.,etc. Here are two of them that
have special meaning for me now.
A late lark twitters from the quiet skies;
And from the west,
Where the sun, his day's work ended,
Lingers as in content,
There falls on the old, gray city
The influence luminous and serene,
A shining peace.
The smoke ascends
In a rose-and-golden haze. The spires
Shine, and are changed. In the valley
Shadows rise. The lark sings on. The sun,
Closing his benediction,
Sinks, and the darkening air
Thrills with a sense of triumphing night -
Night with her train of stars
And her great gift of sleep.
So be my passing !
My task accomplished and the long day done,
My wages taken, and in my heart
Some late lark singing,
Let me be gathered to the quiet west,
The sundown splendid and serene,
William E. Henley
The West Wind
It's a warm wind, the west wind, full of birds cries;
I never hear the west wind but tears are in my eyes.
For it comes from the west lands, the old brown hills,
And April's in the west wind, and daffodils.
It's a fine land, the west land, for hearts as tired as mine,
Apple orchards blossom there, and the air's like wine.
There is cool, green grass there, where men may lie at rest,
And the thrushes are in song there, fluting from the nest.
"Will you not come home, brother ? You have been long away,
It's April and blossom time, and white is the spray;
And bright is the sun, brother, and warm is the rain, -
Will you not come home, brother, home to us again ?
The young corn is green, brother, where the rabbits run,
It's blue sky, and white clouds, and warm rain and sun.
It's song to a man's soul, brother, fire to a man's brain,
To hear the wild bees and see the merry spring again.
Larks are singing in the west,brother, above the green wheat,
So will ye not come home, brother, and rest your tired feet ?
I've a balm for bruised hearts, brother, and sleep for aching eyes,"
Says the warm wind, the west wind, full of birds' cries.
It's the white road westwards is the road I must tread
To the green grass, the cool grass, and the rest for heart and head,
To the violets and the brown brooks and the thrushes' song,
In the fine land, the west land, the land where I belong.