Vignettes about Events & People


Mary Williams created the college's Institute of Lifetime Learning

Mary Margaret Williams

In 1974 Mary Margaret Williams "retired." It lasted all of three months. "The Board of Trustees wanted me to come back and start this senior citizens program," Williams said. "I didn’t know anything about organizing a continuing education program. But I decided it would be fun, something new."


So, at the age of 63, instead of thinking about retirement, Williams was hard at work developing a successful enrichment program for senior citizens.


Today, Cowley’s Institute of Lifetime Learning is recognized as one of the finest programs in the region, due largely to Williams’ leadership and vision. Time has a way of catching up with people, including Williams, an age-less wonder who was a fixture at Cowley for 42 years. On May 8, 1997, at age 86, Williams said goodbye to her longtime employer. "You certainly are a model for us at the college to emulate," Conrad Jimison, associate dean of instruction, told Williams at an end-of-the-year picnic May 8.


"You’ve done an incredible job for the college and we’re going to miss you." "I will not go to the rocking chair," Williams responded. "I don’t even own one." Williams received a mantel clock from the college as a retirement gift. Dr. Pat McAtee, college president, spoke about Williams. "If I get to be your age I hope I can just get out of bed in the morning," he said with a laugh. "Seriously, I can’t say enough about this lady. For someone to devote more than 60 years to education, that’s incredible.


You have been a true delight to work with." Marietta Brammer, then-Williams’ assistant at the Institute in Ireland Hall, and Dr. Lynn Stalnaker, then-dean of instruction, also honored Williams with words of kindness. Williams moved to Wichita in July to be closer to relatives. She said her emphasis in retirement would be to work at her church. Sitting around wouldn’t be part of her day.

There is little doubt that whatever she does, she will make a difference. All you have to do is look at the growth of the Institute of Lifetime Learning to see what impact she has had. From one class of five students in 1974 to more than a dozen classes and 150 students, the Institute has taken on a transformation the past two decades. And Williams, although she hesitates to admit it, has been the catalyst for that change. While the number of classes has increased, the minimum age to enroll has decreased. In 1974 persons 65 or older could enroll. Now the program is open to individuals 55 and over.


Williams was born in Fort Scott, Kan. and spent her youth growing up in Chanute, Bonner Springs and Baldwin City, communities where her father served as principal, superintendent and professor of education at Baker University. Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in math and english from Baker, then went on to the University of Kansas and earned a master’s degree in guidance and psychology. That was in 1961. A great deal has happened since then, and now, Williams is taking a second shot at retirement. "My philosophy is that you can live longer and be healthier if you keep your mind active," Williams said. "That’s what I based the Institute on."

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