Marilyn McRae never knew about Randolph Academy. She never knew any of his students, staff, or alumni—and none of them knew her.
In fact, she lived hundreds of kilometers away. Regardless, she will be long remembered here for her generosity as well as her love of music and children.
Marilyn lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where she plays in orchestras and owns a musical instrument repair shop. She loved finding old tools at garage or estate sales and restoring them – only to give them to area kids who couldn’t afford their own.
Randolph Academy’s board and administrators learned about Marilyn at the November 2022 board meeting when they were presented with a $5,000 check earmarked for its music program — all courtesy of a neighborhood handyman 1,500 miles away.
Richard Wile has lived with his wife, Louisa, in Fort Myers, Florida, for decades. In 2010, he was helping a veteran with a home improvement project—and Marilyn knocked on his door. She had retired and was spending the winter in Fort Myers. She asked him if he would do something for her too, and soon he was helping out with all sorts of odd jobs around her house.
As Richard gets to know Marilyn, he finds her fascinating, especially all the things she does for children through music. She had no children herself, so this was her way of sharing her talents and generosity with others.
“When I started working on her house, I saw her working on these tools,” he recalls. “She would restore them and then give them away to people and families who couldn’t afford their own.”
“She also taught Sunday school and had lots of crafts for the kids to do,” Louisa says.
Richard and Louisa began inviting her to dinner, taking her on sunset cruises, and even hosting her at Thanksgiving.
“She was a very nice lady” Richard says. “We were of the same fabric. When she came down, we even took a break so we could spend some time together with her.
“We equated her to something like an aunt,” adds Louisa.
Sadly, their time with Marilyn came to an end in 2020 when she passed away from cancer. Almost immediately, the Wiles felt they had to do something to honor her and carry on her legacy.
It only took one look at her music store to know where to start. There were dozens of brass, woodwind, and string instruments—even a tiny Fender-made banjo—all scattered around her home. But where did they go, and to whom?
Richard then thought about his hometown and the school where his sister Susan now teaches: Randolph Academy.
Susan Jackson is a cosmetology instructor on the Randolph campus, and Richard remembered talking about her students and the music classes they took.
“Marilyn loved life and people, but children above all” Richard says. “She wanted to pass her love of music on to others, so I contacted Susan to help get them into the hands of her students.”
Ms. Jackson immediately contacted Don Hinman, the music instructor at the Randolph and Hamburg campuses. Unfortunately, like the school itself, Randolph’s Academy’s music program is not typical of most areas. Due to the small class size and wide age range (K-12), a traditional concert band or orchestra is not possible.
“I teach general music and we tend to focus on more basic, modern music,” Mr. Hinman says. “It’s almost a ‘School of Rock’ concept, with electric pianos, guitars, ukuleles, drums, etc.”
Thus, while the tools themselves were not an option, the program was certainly open to a donation to help fund the tools and supplies that would be more practical.
“The $5,000 we’ve gotten so far was from a baby grand piano that my brother and his wife had restored and then sold.” Mrs. Jackson explains. “They are in the process of doing the same with some of her other larger and less traditional items.”
But what about those tools that were originally looking for a home? As luck would have it, Randolph Academy is right next door to Randolph Central School, which was thrilled to host them for their music program.
“Marilyn had a big heart for the youth in the community and a love of music like no other,” Richard testified. “It will make her happy to know that many schools are benefiting from her gifts.” It’s a perfect legacy.”
And together the Wiles have organized quite a show in her honor.