Marilyn McRae didn’t know about Randolph Academy. She didn’t know that her students, staff, or her alumni—and nobody knew her.
In fact, she lived hundreds of miles away. Nevertheless, her generosity and her love for her music and her children will long be remembered here.
Marilyn lived in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, played in orchestras, and ran a musical instrument repair shop. She loved finding and restoring old instruments in garages and estate sales, but she gave them away to children in the area who couldn’t afford their own instruments.
The Randolph Academy board and administrators learned of Marilyn at the November 2022 board meeting. At that time, his check for $5,000 designated for music programs was presented. This is all thanks to the kindness of a neighborhood handyman 1,500 miles away.
Richard Wiley has lived with his wife Louisa in Fort Myers, Florida for decades. In 2010, he was helping with a veterans’ home improvement project. Marilyn knocked on his door. She retired and spent the winter at her Fort Myers. She asked if he could do some work for her too, and soon he was helping her with all sorts of odd jobs around the house.
As Richard got to know Marilyn, he became fascinated by everything she did for children, especially through music. She had no children, so this was a way for her to share her talent and generosity with others.
“I saw her working on these instruments when I started working at her house.” he remembers “She put them back and gave them to individuals and families who couldn’t afford to buy them themselves.”
“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 inviting her to Thanksgiving.
“She was a very kind woman.” Richard says. “We were the same dough. I even took time off so I could spend quality time with her when she came down.”
“We identified her with something of an aunt.” Add Louisa.
Unfortunately, his time with Marilyn ended in 2020 when she died of cancer. I was.
One look at her music shop and I knew where to start. Dozens of brass, woodwind, string instruments, and even a small Fender banjo were scattered around her house. But where should they go and who should they go to?
Then Richard remembered his hometown and the school where his sister Susan teaches today, Randolph Academy.
Susan Jackson is a hairdresser at the Randolph Campus, and Richard remembers talking to his students about the music classes they took.
“Marilyn loved life and people, but most of all she loved her children.” Richard says. “She wanted to pass on her love of music to others, so I reached out to Susan to help get these into the hands of her students.”
Mrs. Jackson soon got in touch with Don Hinman, a music lecturer at both the Randolph and Hamburg campuses. Unfortunately, like the school itself, the music program at Randolph Academy is not typical of most school districts. Due to the small class size and wide age range (K-12), a traditional concert with his band or orchestra is not possible.
“I teach general music, but tend to focus on more general contemporary music.” Hinman says. “It’s almost a ‘School of Rock’ concept, with electric piano, guitar, ukulele, drums, etc.”
So, although the instruments themselves weren’t an option, the program was accepting donations to fund more practical instruments and supplies.
“The $5,000 I received so far was from a baby grand piano that my brother and wife restored and sold.” Mrs. Jackson explains. “They are in the process of doing the same with some of her other larger, less traditional items.”
But what about the instrument that was originally looking for a home? Luckily, Randolph Academy is right next door to Randolph Central School, which was thrilled to welcome them to their music program.
“Marilyn had a big heart for the youth of her community and a love of music like no other.” Richard testifies. “She will be delighted to know that multiple schools have benefited from her gift. It’s the perfect legacy.”
And together, Wiles orchestrated quite a performance in her honor.