Bob Wilden Remembered for Helping Disadvantaged in F.C.

May 13, 2009 10:11 PM0 comments

wildenphotoA remarkable lifetime dedicated to service for the socially disadvantaged was lauded by officials in the City of Falls Church this week following news of the sudden passing of Bob Wilden, 73, last week.

 

wildenphoto

Bob Wilden

A remarkable lifetime dedicated to service for the socially disadvantaged was lauded by officials in the City of Falls Church this week following news of the sudden passing of Bob Wilden, 73, last week.

 

Wilden made monumental contributions to the advancement of affordable housing and after-school computer training efforts of disadvantaged youths in the Falls Church City Schools.

 

Wilden did not disclose the seriousness of his struggle with cancer to any of the many friends he worked with on these causes until only days before he succumbed. He’d just checked into the Capital Hospice expecting a long struggle with the end-stages of his disease when he died in his sleep at 6 a.m. on May 6.

As recently as April 17 he appeared beaming at the annual banquet of the non-profit Falls Church Education Foundation (FCEF), where thousands was raised in an auction format for his After-School Program, named for his wife, Imogene, who preceded him in death from cancer in 2005.

Wilden was an enormous force establishing the viability of a major affordable housing project in Falls Church, contributing $500,000 on condition that the sum was matched with contributions from other sources. Thanks to his own fundraising efforts to get the additional money, $1 million was raised, and the seed money for what may develop as a successful project later this year was provided.

“He was the best fundraiser I’ve ever met,” commented Bob Young, a developer and key force in the founding and development of the FCEF.

A native of California, Wilden’s life-long commitment to affordable housing and benefits for the disadvantaged began with his decision to enter graduate theological seminary, achieving a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Andover-Newton Seminary in Massachusetts in 1961.

He took on pastoral roles in St. Louis, but soon focused on affordable housing issues, working for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for 17 years and then as executive director of the National Commission on Manufactured Housing until his retirement in 1994.

Following the death of his wife in 2005, Wilden, a Falls Church resident, began a search to find ways to contribute his generosity to good local causes. He chose the non-profit Falls Church Housing Corporation (FCHC), also serving on its board and speaking out frequently in favor of affordable housing to the Falls Church City Council and other policy groups in addition to making his major financial contribution, and the FCEF.

At the same time, Wilden made a major financial contribution to the establishment of the Charles G. Adams Leadership Development Fund at the Harvard Divinity School in Massachusetts. The fund is used to support a professor at the school who “relates ethical questions to a broad range of social practices” for his or her students. Wilden donated $1.5 million to establish the fund on condition that it be matched with $500,000 from the University Professorship Challenge Fund, which it was.

The FCEF’s Donna Englander and the FCHC’s Carol Jackson provided statements in memory of Wilden to the News-Press, at the News-Press’ request.

Jackson said, in part: “For a few brief years, Bob chose to leave his personal mark on our community – quietly and strategically initiating communal efforts to create, grow and sustain caring enterprises that will leave a legacy – any one of which the normal civic minded citizen would be proud to claim.”

She added, “Bob was a seed planter who not only challenged us with his ‘think impossible’ ideas, but then stayed to put his money, personal talents and sacrificial time where his mouth was. Inside the Housing Corporation, we called him the prophet as he was always one step ahead with undeniable truths that made some of us squirm and many of us take leaps of faith and jumps through hoops we would have undertaken in no other atmosphere.”

Jackson continued, “Bob was all about leveraging small steps for big results…We will not forget his legacy nor his challenge to ‘make things better all the time.'”

Englander wrote that she first met Wilden in 2005, when he approached her seeking to make an appropriate contribution in memory of his wife that would help to “maintain diversity” in the City of Falls Church.

“His goal was to support students from socio-economically disadvantaged families in Falls Church, and to keep them from moving out of Falls Church…He was afraid Falls Church would become a ‘gated community’ that would quickly become out of reach for economically-disadvantaged families.”

His gift to the FCEF has paid for 38 lap top computers for his After-School Program to date, Englander reported. “But not only did Bob provide the funding for the laptops, he also devoted his energy as a volunteer and fundraiser for the program. The students could depend on Bob to show up after school and help them with their work, as well as share a little about himself and his values.”

She added, “He was a part of their Thanksgiving celebrations, their end of year graduation ceremonies and field trips. I think their enthusiasm helped Bob begin to heal from the loss of his dear Imogene. A smile quickly formed whenever he talked about the kids.”

A memorial service for Wilden is slated for Sunday, May 24, at his long-time church, New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1313 New York Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. at 12:30 p.m., followed by a reception. A memorial for the Falls Church community is being organized for Wednesday, May 27, at 5:30 p.m. at the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School cafetorium.

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