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Martha Elizabeth Andresen Wilder

Beloved grandmother, esteemed, longtime Pomona College professor

Martha Elizabeth Andresen Wilder, longtime Pomona College professor, died surrounded by her loving family on March 24, 2018 at the age of 74.

She was born March 7, 1944 in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Karl and Elizabeth Andresen. Her life was graced by her husband, Stephen, daughter, Emily, stepchildren Kristen, Aryn and Benjamin, and granddaughters Isabelle, Sophie, Matilda and Gwen—her beloved “little girls,” her family shared. She had three devoted sisters, Susan, Judith and Sarah, as well as a vast community of friends and colleagues, near and far. 

Ms. Andresen Wilder earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota, and her graduate degree in English literature from Yale University. After spending two years teaching at the University of Pittsburgh, in 1972 she found her home at Claremont’s Pomona College. There, she became an integral member of the faculty.

Inspired by the phrase “only connect,” the epigraph from the E.M. Forster novel, Howard’s End, she sought to make the works of Shakespeare and other Renaissance authors relevant to the lives of her students. They often remarked on her impressive knowledge of the material, her infectious appreciation of the genius of the Bard, but above all, her ability to instill in them a lesson “plus the reasons for taking that lesson to heart,” her family said, adding, “Simply put, she ‘awakened the heart.’”

In her 34 years at Pomona College, Professor Andresen Wilder was honored seven times with the Wig Award for Excellence in Teaching. She was also chosen by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education to be the California Professor of the Year and by Baylor University as the recipient of the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching. For her final 16 years at Pomona, she held the distinguished title of Phoebe Estelle Spalding Professor of English.

A talented public speaker, Ms. Andresen Wilder gave some 400 lectures outside of the classroom. She shared her love of Shakespeare with many and diverse audiences, including members of the Credit Union Association of America, visitors to the Huntington Library, residents of Pilgrim Place, and the doctors and nurses at City of Hope.

Her work ethic was unrivaled and her energy boundless, her family shared. Even in retirement, she kept very busy, spending time with family and friends, traveling, writing her memoir, gardening, cooking, relaxing with a glass of good scotch or fine wine, and “motoring” to Los Angeles to watch performances of the Master Chorale at Walt Disney Concert Hall or the LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl.

She was intellectually curious, a lifelong learner with interests (and a book collection) that were ever expanding. She contributed her time and resources to a number of philanthropic causes, including the Huntington Library, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden and City of Hope.

Her loved ones will remember her as someone whose outer beauty was only eclipsed by her beauty within.

“We will remember Martha’s eloquence, her infinite lovingness and generosity, and her strength of character,” they said. “We will remember her wicked (and sometimes bawdy) sense of humor. We will remember her ability to spin a story through her love of language and ability to embellish, which both connected with and enthralled her audience. We will remember her ability to create meaningful connections with, and celebrate the qualities of, everyone she met—from toddlers to senior citizens. We are better people for having been loved by her. We will miss her more than words can express, but we will carry her, and the gifts she has given us, with us always.”

It was her wish that donations be sent in her honor to Pomona College at community.pomona.edu/give_today, or City of Hope for the research of Dr. Vinod Pullarkat at ourhope.cityofhope.org/andresenwilder. A public memorial service will be held at Pomona College later in the spring.