Sept. 26, 2002
Vol. 22 No. 1

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    Mary Wolkonsky, Life Trustee, supported women’s roles

    Mary Ward Wolkonsky, a Life Trustee of the University, died Sunday, Aug. 11, at the age of 94. In addition to longstanding work on behalf of the University, Wolkonsky also offered her talents in a multitude of community service activities throughout her life, particularly those that advanced the role of women.

    In the 1950s, she traveled with Margaret Sanger to India for an international conference on birth control. Afterwards, she said that she believed it was the world’s most important social cause. She later served as president of the Chicago chapter of the Planned Parenthood Association.

    Up until two weeks before her death, Wolkonsky was still actively organizing and attending events to raise funds for causes that would benefit the community. “It gives you a feeling of being worthwhile,” she explained to the Chicago Sun-Times in 1993. “I guess I greatly enjoy the things I do.”

    She developed the University’s “Know Your Chicago” program, a series of tours that focus on issues of community interest while highlighting a particular neighborhood, industry, or cultural institution in the Chicago area.

    She intended it to be a forum for networking and a way to foster leadership for women. The popular program is now in its 50th year.

    In 1961, Wolkonsky was President of the University’s Women’s Board. She served as chairman of the University’s Visiting Committee to the Department of Music and founded the department’s Jazz Archive. She raised $200,000 to save the landmark Laredo Taft Studios building, now called Midway Studios, which houses the University’s Committee on the Visual Arts.

    She also served on the board of International House.

    In 1948, Wolkonsky became the Illinois Radio Chairman of the League of Women Voters and chaired the women’s division of the Drive for Educational Television from 1953 to 1956. In addition, Wolkonsky created the “Bright New City” lecture series on urban environmental design in 1961.

    She was instrumental in creating a women’s board for the Chicago Lyric Opera and served on the boards of the Chicago Public Library Foundation, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, the Field Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago, where she served as president of the Women’s Board of Trustees from 1953 to 1966.

    In 1987, the Illinois Humanities Council awarded her the Public Humanities Award. She received leadership awards from the Harvard Club of Chicago, the YWCA, the Chicago Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Metropolitan Housing and Planning Council, among many other honors for her community service.

    Wolkonsky graduated from Vassar College in 1929, and in 1970, Lake Forest College awarded her with an honorary L.H.D. During World War II, she worked for the Lend-Lease Administration, later renamed the Foreign Economic Administration.

    Her first husband was J. Harris Ward, who was a chairman of the board of Commonwealth Edison as well as a University Trustee. They had two children, David and John, who is deceased. After her first husband’s death, she married Dr. Peter Wolkonsky, a retired medical director of Amoco Oil Company, who had earned his undergraduate and medical degrees at Chicago and who is also deceased.

    In addition to her son David, four grandchildren and four great grandchildren survive her. A memorial service will be held today at 4:30 p.m. in the Lyric Opera Building at 20 N. Wacker Drive.