RANDOLPH — Marilyn Macrae never knew of Randolph Academy. She never knew any of its students, staff or alumni — and none of them knew her.
In fact, she lived hundreds of miles away. Nonetheless, she will be long remembered here for her generosity, as well as her love of music and children.
Macrae lived in Cherry Hill, N.J., where she performed in orchestras and owned a musical instrument repair shop. She loved finding old instruments at garage or estate sales and restoring them — only to give them away to area children who couldn’t afford their own.
Randolph Academy’s board and administrators learned about Macrae during their November 2022 board meeting, at which time they were presented a check for $5,000, designated for its music program — all thanks to the kindness of a neighborhood handyman 1,500 miles away.
Richard Wile has lived with his wife, Luisa, in Fort Myers, Fla., for decades. In 2010, he was helping a veteran with a home improvement project — and Macrae knocked on his door. She had retired and was spending winters in Fort Myers. She asked if he’d do some work for her, too, and soon he was helping with all sorts of odd jobs around her house.
As Wile got to know Macrae, he found her fascinating, especially all the things she did for children through music. She had no children herself, so this was her way of sharing her talents and generosity with others.
“When I started working on her house, I saw her working on these instruments,” he recalled. “She would restore them and then give them away to individuals and families who couldn’t afford their own.”
“She also taught Sunday School and had lots of crafts for the kids to do,” Luisa Wile said.
Richard and Luisa began inviting Macrae over for dinner, taking her on sunset cruises, and even hosting her on Thanksgiving.
“She was a very sweet lady,” Richard Wile said. “We were of the same cloth. When she would come down, we would even take time off so that we could spend some quality time together with her.”
Unfortunately, their time with Macrae ended in 2020, when she passed away due to cancer. Almost immediately the Wiles felt like they needed to do something to honor her and carry on her legacy.
It took just one glance at her music shop to know where to start. There were dozens of brass, woodwind and string instruments — even a tiny banjo made by Fender — all scattered around her home. But where should they go, and to whom?
Then, Richard thought back to his hometown and the school where his sister, Susan, teaches today: Randolph Academy.
Susan Jackson is the Randolph campus’ cosmetology teacher, and Richard remembered talking about her students and the music classes they took.
“Marilyn loved life and people, but children above all else,” Wile said. “She wanted to impart her love of music on others, so I contacted Susan to help get these into her students’ hands.”
Jackson immediately connected with Don Hinman, the music instructor for both the Randolph and Hamburg campuses. Unfortunately, like the school itself, Randolph’s Academy’s music program isn’t typical of most districts. Due to its small class sizes and wide-ranging ages (K-12), a traditional concert band or orchestra isn’t possible.
“I teach general music, and we tend to focus on more common, modern music,” Hinman said. “It’s almost a ‘School of Rock’ concept, with electric pianos, guitars, ukuleles, drums, etc.”
Thus, while the instruments themselves weren’t an option, the program was certainly open to a donation to help fund the instruments and supplies that would be more practical.
“The $5,000 we’ve received thus far was from a baby grand piano, which my brother and his wife had restored and then sold,” Jackson explained. “They’re in the process of doing the same with some of her other larger and less traditional items.”
But what about those instruments which were originally looking for a home? As luck would have it, Randolph Academy is right next door to Randolph Central School, which was thrilled to receive them for their music program.
“Marilyn had a big heart for youth in the community and a love of music like no other,” Wile said. “It would make her happy to know multiple schools are benefitting from her gifts. It’s a perfect legacy.”
And together, the Wiles have orchestrated quite a performance in her honor.
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