From her apartment at 29 East Ninth St. New York City, Francis P. Willson could gaze south and see Washington Park or peer to the north and marvel at Union Square Park. Over the course of many years, there was an allure to the city, but St. Clair was always home.
In fact, Willson had many ties to the Blue Water Area. Born Francis Parsons on January 20, 1885, she later married William J. Willson and they took up residence in St. Clair for many years. In 1965, however, life brought her to that New York apartment. After the passing of her mother in New York City, Willson traveled the world with her sister-a concert pianist. When the pair wasn’t traveling, they spent their winters in New York and summers in St. Clair.
Francis Wilson’s summer home was located just north of the former Catholic Retreat House on M29 (now the site of multiple condos). For a good idea of Willson’s character, imagine the time M29 was being widened. Bulldozers attempted to remove trees in the front of her property, but she strongly objected. At 4’ 11” tall and weighing under 100 lbs, Wilson told the bulldozer operator she would tie herself to a tree and he would have to take her with it. She prevailed, the road was moved (and yes-the trees still stand today).
Strong in her convictions, she was, and perhaps even stronger in her spirit of giving. In addition to a gift of $500,000 to the Charles & Margaret Anderson Foundation Fund, in 1997 she gave her co-op apartment at 29 East Ninth Street in Greenwich Village, New York City to the Community Foundation of St. Clair County. The apartment sold for $1.15 million in 1997 and proceeds were used to establish the Francis P. Willson Fund at the Community Foundation of St. Clair County. Since its creation the Francis P. Willson Fund has granted $553,953 to a variety of organizations.
Through the Foundation, Willson’s life is still impacting lives today.