George Woodrow Wilson Jr., 78, formerly of St. Joseph, died on April 14, 2022, in Overland Park, Kan.
Born in New Orleans, George was raised on the south side of Chicago where he was one of the first students to integrate Mt. Carmel High School. During the time at Northern Illinois University, he majored in business; however, he realized that business was not his calling. He would go on to get a degree in anthropology at Wichita State University and his masters at the University of Massachusetts.
His formal education was interrupted when he was called to active duty by the U.S. Navy Reserves. He was a crew member of the ill-fated USS Liberty, which was attacked by Israeli aircraft during the Six Day War in 1967; George throughout his life lamented at the loss of lives. He himself was wounded and received a Purple Heart.
He met his wife-to-be en route to Haifa, Israel, where they both served as volunteers at the Baha’i World Center – he as an official photographer. They were married the following year in 1969. After graduating from Wichita State University, he and his young family moved to the east coast and joined the Teacher Corps program in Providence, Rhode Island.
A year later, they moved to the Twin Cities, St. Joseph/Benton Harbor, where George was employed by the Benton Harbor Area Schools for 30 years as a preschool and elementary school teacher. Often his students would come to his home and ask if he can come out and play. And when shopping at Meijer, we often hear young voices yelling, “Hey, Mr. Wilson! Remember me?”
He was an ardent family man, devoted to his wife, and two daughters: Jane and Tirzah; and a doting grandfather to Anya, Merritt and Delia. He is their favorite, ever-present cheerleader. Anyone he meets – his doctors, the restaurant servers, and strangers – will almost invariably be subjected to his accolades of praise of his daughters and grandchildren, which inevitably are followed by his showing of their pictures.
He was a collector and painted hundreds of toy soldiers and tiny figurines. With his knowledge of history, he set up major dioramas of battle scenes. His favorite T-shirt says, “Whoever collects the most toys wins.” He won.
He was known to be a storyteller; none of his stories were short – but worthy of note – he told stories in the spirit of a griot weaving together entertainment and ancestral connections. Moreover, he and his family at one time were a traveling puppet troupe, The Flower Garden Puppet Theater, and gave shows depicting various folktales that promoted the themes of oneness of humanity.
In the span of more than 50 years as a member of the Baha’i Faith, he served on several local Baha’i assemblies and committees, taught children’s classes at Louhelen Baha’i School, traveled to the Yukon Territory as a youth to serve the community there, and was a frequent speaker at numerous occasions. Guided by the fundamental belief in the oneness of humanity, he and his wife also served as facilitators for several eight-week long sessions of Healing Racism in the area.
He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Mary; his two daughters: Jane Helzer and Tirzah (Ted) Gregory and three grandchildren: Anya Helzer, Merritt Gregory and Delia Gregory – all living in Overland Park, Kan.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to aSTEAM Village (www.asteamvillage.org) – a program that inspires students and families to pursue education and career pathways in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math through community-based project learning and innovative programs.