Donor Spotlight: Francis P. Willson

Posted on September 19, 2017

Once in a while the Community Foundation receives gifts other than money. These gifts, known as gifts of real or personal property, can take many forms be it a car, a boat, a piece of land or an apartment.

Francis P. Willson made one such gift. In 1997 she gave her co-op apartment at 29 East Ninth Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, to the Foundation retaining only a life interest. She passed away that same year at the age of 102. 

The apartment sold for $1.15 million in 1997 and proceeds were used to establish the Francis P. Willson Fund.  Today the co-op is worth around $3 million.

Since its creation the Francis P. Willson Fund has granted $553,953 to a variety of organizations.

Known for being caring and generous, however, the co-op isn’t the only gift Willson gave to the Community Foundation. She also gave an additional $500,000 to the Charles & Margaret Anderson Foundation Fund, which supports the arts.

Willson had many ties to the Port Huron area. She was born Francis Parsons on January 20, 1885. She later married William J. Willson and they took up residence in St. Clair.

Her husband passed away in 1965 and after his death Willson moved to New York to live with her mother in the 29 East Ninth Street apartment. Willson’s sister, a concert pianist, moved in with her after their mother’s death.

Together the two ladies traveled the world. When not traveling, they spent their winters in New York and their summers in St. Clair.

Her St. Clair home was located just north of the former Catholic Retreat House on M29, which is now the site of multiple condos.

One fond memory people have of Willson is during the time M29 was being widened. Bulldozers attempted to remove trees in the front of her property. But being 4’ 11” tall and weighing not even 100 lbs, Willson objected and told the bulldozer operator she would tie herself to a tree and he would have to take her with it. She prevailed, and the road was moved and the trees still stand today. 

Willson supported many other local organizations during her life, including the Port Huron Museum and St. Clair County Community College. She also volunteered at New York University teaching diction to foreign students.

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