Obituary: Mary Eleanor Kidder Wall

(Source: Elmhurst Community Funeral Home)

Mary Eleanor Kidder Wall, age 92, passed away on February 21, 2022 in Elmhurst, IL. She was born in Monroe, Michigan in 1930 to Ralph Wyman Kidder and Neva Springer Kidder. She attended public schools in Florida where her father was a researcher in cattle breeding and nutrition on a research station in the Florida Everglades. As a child she remembers belonging to the youth groups at the Methodist church. She played the piano and organ for Sunday school, and in high school played the piano for Rotary and Lions clubs where she heard politicians and community leaders speak every week. Her father was a community leader and her mother and two aunts provided leadership for the church women’s group and Woman’s Club. Having been exposed to urgent social issues in her youth, Mary Eleanor worked in favor of integration for the whole of her life.

Mary Eleanor received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Florida Southern College and a Master of Religious Education degree at Emory University. While at Emory she met her future husband, James McKendree Wall. In 1951 she was the Director of Christian Education, first at College Heights Methodist Church, Lakeland, Florida, and then at the First United Methodist Church in Decatur, Georgia. In 1953 Mary Eleanor Kidder married James Wall in Belle Glade, Florida. They moved to Illinois in 1957 when Jim was a graduate student at the University of Chicago Divinity School. In 1959 they moved to Elmhurst with their two young sons, David McKendree and Robert Kidder. Their third son, Richard James, was born shortly after. Mary Eleanor’s husband, James, became editor of The Christian Advocate and then editor and publisher of The Christian Century magazine for twenty-seven years. He retired in 1999. Throughout their lives, Reverend James and Mary Eleanor Wall were to share some very exciting times.

While her children were growing up, Mary Eleanor was an active volunteer in the community. She served on the steering committees for School District 205 Citizens Task Force, Elmhurst College Challenge, College of DuPage Century III Project, and the League of Women Voters of Illinois Juvenile Court Watching Project. She was on the Elmhurst YMCA Board of Directors and Elmhurst Human Relations Council (1965-1970). Mary Eleanor was a consultant on Public Policy for the Chicago Lung Association and served on their Clean Air Committee (1969-1982). She still found time to be a Director of the United Methodist Foundation, University of Chicago (1966-75) and on the Administrative Board (1967) at the Elmhurst First United Methodist Church, where she also sang in the Chancel Choir. In 1971 Mary Eleanor founded and chaired the DuPage County Democratic Women’s Caucus. She was elected in 1974 to the DuPage County Board as one of the first Democratic women ever to be seated on the board. That same year, her husband ran for Democratic state central committeeman in the same primary and won.

Mary Eleanor and her husband, Jim, were active in the Jimmy Carter Presidential Campaigns in 1975-76 and 1980. Jim was Illinois Chairman for the Carter Campaign in the Primary 1976 and 1980. They were friends with the Carters and shared common interests. Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States of America in 1976. In 1977 Vice President Walter Mondale personally phoned Mary Eleanor in Elmhurst to tell her that President Carter had appointed her to serve on a nine-member Presidential Commis¬sion to select a new Director of the Federal Bureau of Investiga¬tion.

Mary Eleanor said, “While Carter was President he spent the night at our home on May 25, 1978, after speaking at a Democratic Cook County/City of Chicago dinner. Carter flew to Springfield the next day to address the Illinois Legislature. In the Fall of 1979, the two of us spent the night with the Carters at the White House and went to the opera with them to see Salome. We slept in the Lincoln bedroom.” While Mary Eleanor was in Washington she took the opportunity, as President of the American Association of University Women-Illinois, to meet with President Carter’s senior adviser on women’s affairs to discuss the prospect of her home state ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. And it was quite an extraordinary and unforgettable community event in 1978 when the President of the United States of America slept at the Walls’ residence (451 S. Kenilworth) right here in Elmhurst! In fact, it was one of the city’s highlights of the decade, especially for the Elmhurst Police Department. Elmhurst officers proudly and efficiently assisted the United States Secret Service in providing security and crowd control for the approximate five thousand Elmhurst residents who greeted President Carter. In 1980 Mary Eleanor Wall once again was appointed by President Carter as one of three public members on a twenty-six-member federal Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.

While serving as a DuPage County Board Member, Mary Eleanor was a Forest Preserve Commissioner (1974 -78). She also was a DuPage County Regional Planning Commissioner (1975-2000) and served as chairperson for sixteen years (1980-96). In 1989, Elmhurst Mayor Charles Garrigues appointed Mary Eleanor to the Mayor’s Task Force on Senior Housing. Both the city and the county faced many issues concerning senior citizens. As a direct result of Mary Eleanor’s enterprising efforts with numerous people and organizations, the DuPage Senior Citizens Council had been established in 1975. Eventually a new not-for-profit group called Senior Home Sharing, Inc. was started in 1981. After serving on the Board, Mary Eleanor became the Executive Director in 1983 and continued in that position until she retired in May 2000. She also assisted in forming the Illinois Shared Housing Network in 1993 with support from the Illinois Department on Aging. She has been graciously referred to as the “Godmother” of DuPage senior citizens. In addition to consulting and serving on many councils, committees and commissions, Mary Eleanor was the founding force behind the DuPage Community Foundation in 1987. This nonprofit organization accepts bequests and donations, and in return awards monetary grants to deserving arts, civic, and social service groups in the county.

In 1966 Mary Eleanor Wall was the most dedicated and admired President of the Elmhurst Branch of the American Association of University Women: It was quite clear from the beginning that she would go on to great achievements within the organization. She served on several steering committees and chaired councils and commissions not only in Elmhurst but at the state level and nationally. Mary Eleanor Wall became the Illinois State President in 1979. Under her expert and thoughtful leadership, issues like ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, childcare, job sharing and equal education for girls were studied. Strategies and action also were initiated. As a representative of the Illinois AAUW, Mary Eleanor traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with legislators and to participate in discussions on the SALT II Treaty. In 1998 she again was elected by the membership as Co-President of the Elmhurst Branch. Her experience in the AAUW were significant in nurturing her interests and her development in her adult years, and gave her the opportunity to establish lifelong friendships and work with outstanding women of all ages and many experiences.

Mary Eleanor Wall has been formally recognized by the Elmhurst Branch of the American Association of University Women as an AAUW Educational Founda¬tion Named Grant Honoree. In 1988 she was honored with the YWCA DuPage Outstanding Woman Leader Professional in Community Work Award. Senior Home Sharing, Inc. presented her with the 2000 Merritt H Grim Award for her able leadership and many years of advocacy and outstanding service on behalf of seniors. In appreciation of her extraordinary efforts, she was given the 2000 Gold L.E.A.F Award (Leadership and .Excellence in Advocating for families) by Metropolitan Family Services, DuPage. Mary Eleanor continued to facilitate organizational development through volunteer work with not-for-profit and public policy work. She was elected Co -President of the National Shared Housing Resource Center Conference.

Mary Eleanor Wall said this about herself, “I am loyal, persistent, unpredictable, interested in history, prehistoric early humankind… I am also keenly interested in current events . . . as contemporary history unfolds. The foundation of this interest comes from being a liberal Protestant Christian woman which brings me to being a feminist and a Democrat concerned about human rights and justice for all people and especially for the most vulnerable persons, often girls and older women … I am always thinking, processing information and experiences, making connections to solve problems … All of these experiences are now somehow integrated and connected in who I am at the present moment, still forming, processing and learning.”

She enjoyed archaeological study tours in the Near East and the Mediterranean, choral singing, opera and reading related to Biblical and classical archaeology. And of course, she was always there for her family.

Beloved mother of David McKendree (Robin) Wall, Robert Kidder (Renae) Wall, and Richard James Wall; loving grandmother of Rachel Michelle (Jesse) Welliver, Adam McKendree (Kimmie) Wall, Melissa Grace Wall, and Mariah (Carlen) Cyphers; cherished great-grandmother of Norah Ruth Welliver, Lydia Noelle Welliver, Clara Eden Welliver, Tessa Joanna Welliver, Chance McKendree Wall, and Luca James Wall; dear sister of the late Clarence Kidder and the late Dorothy Overbey.

Memorial contributions in Mary Eleanor’s name may be made to Seraj Library Project, 636 N. Harvey Avenue, Oak Park, IL 60302, First United Methodist Church of Elmhurst, 232 S. York Road, Elmhurst, IL 60126, or to the DuPage Foundation, 3000 Woodcreek Drive #310, Downers Grove, IL 60515-5408.

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