Marguerite Woodruff Widener
1892 - 1981
Marguerite Widener, piano teacher at the University of Nebraska and Union College, was born in and spent most of her life in Nebraska. One of four children, from the age of eleven she took piano lessons at the University of Nebraska School of Music. Her father, owner of the Woodruff Printing Company, arranged with the president of the university for Marguerite to have piano lessons in exchange for engraving their diplomas and doing other printing work for the school.
She received two lessons each week and was expected to practice from two to five hours a day. When she completed a B.Mus. at the university in 1915, which included an hour-and-a-half recital in her senior year, the head of the music school offered her a position as a teacher at the school. Marguerite taught there until her marriage three years later, in 1918, to William Widener.
While she had been teaching, she had started to work on her master's degree. Following their marriage in New Mexico, where he had been stationed at a military base, she returned to Lincoln to continue her music study and teach piano while he served in Europe during World War I.
Upon his return they moved to Kansas City in 1920, where they resided until 1935. While living there, they had two sons. The firstborn, a talented and thoughtful child, was born with a congenital heart defect and died prematurely at age nine. This devastating loss intensified a quest Marguerite had been pursuing from her earliest years for spiritual truth.
Through a series of experiences, she became convinced that membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church was a step she had to take. Her husband was unable to accept this change in their lives, and when they divorced in 1935, she returned to live in Lincoln, Nebraska, with custody of their son.
In 1939, Widener, who had relocated to College View, near Union College, was invited by Carl Engel, chair of the music department at the college, to teach piano. In preparing for her teaching at the college, she returned to the UN for some additional study in music. The association with the UC music program continued for over 20 years, until 1962, when she retired at age 70.
She was known for her sense of humor and was loved by her students, one of whom, Marvin Robertson, would become Dean of the School of Music at Southern Adventist University. She continued to teach long after retirement, often giving free lessons to children from families with financial problems.
One of her closest friends, Naomi Jungling Sica, recalled the relationship she enjoyed with Widener and the kind of person she was;
We as friends knew her as "Geet." She was a very kind person. In her last years she'd take in college students who couldn't afford to stay in the dormitory.
I remember her great joy when we'd all pile into a car and go hear the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra. She loved getting all dressed up and was so alert and interested in all music events. Her brother, Reginald Woodruff, owned a printing company in Lincoln, near the University of Nebraska. Her family circle included wonderful, sophisticated people, well-spoken and well educated. She was quite well known to Lincoln piano teachers.
She would call me asking, "Well, what do we do today?" She loved entertaining and being social, and enjoyed fixing a meal for the "ladies," including Opal Miller, other single women teachers, and myself. She loved her church and fought to keep the old historic College View Church. She enjoyed traveling as well and particularly enjoyed a trip she took to Europe with one of the college music groups.
In her retirement, Widener completed a small book, The Wonder of it All, recounting her life's experiences and her spiritual journey. It was completed on November 30, 1976, on her 84th birthday. She was living in Lincoln, Nebraska, when she died at age 99.
Sources: Marguerite Woodruff Widener, The Wonder of it All, 1976; Note from Naomi Jungling Sica, 2007; Social Security Death Index, Ancestory.com.