With a gift of $2 million, the Matilda R. Wilson Fund established an endowed chair in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University.
The Meadow Brook Farm Animal Chair in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences will focus on enhancing and ensuring the health, nutrition, and well-being of farm animals-lifetime goals of Matilda Wilson. The chair is named after her beloved farm, Meadow Brook.
The MSU Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences is responsible for the health and well-being of horses, cattle, sheep, and swine. It teaches large animal veterinarians, expands knowledge through research, and applies research through clinical work and outreach.
Although companion animals such as dogs and cats are beginning to benefit from today’s changing view of animal nutrition, knowledge of nutrition in large animals has lagged behind. The new chair will conduct research on improved diets for large animals aimed at maximum health, well-being, and longevity. Healthy farm animals benefit people because they are less likely to have infectious diseases and have reduced need for medical treatment such as antibiotics that could subsequently taint the food supply.
“Gifts such as this are the difference between mediocrity and excellence,” said department chairperson Frederik Derksen. “MSU provides an outstanding environment for large animal food and nutritional research and teaching. We have a well-established food animal program across the College of Veterinary Medicine and strong food animal nutrition related research and teaching programs elsewhere on campus.”
Matilda Rausch Dodge Wilson, born in Ontario in 1883, married John Dodge, the automotive pioneer, in 1907. They bought a 320-acre farm called Meadow Brook near Rochester, Michigan, the first of nine farms that eventually made up the Meadow Brook acreage. John Dodge died in 1920 after contracting influenza, and Matilda subsequently married lumber broker Alfred Gaston Wilson. They moved to Meadow Brook and lived in the rambling Dodge farmhouse. By the outbreak of World War II, the farm comprised 2,600 acres and employed 40 workers.
One of those workers was George D, Miller, Jr., president of the Matilda R. Wilson Fund. “I knew her as both her farmhand and her lawyer,” said Miller, now a partner in the Detroit law firm Bodman, Longley & Dahling, LLP. “I’m aware of her feeling toward farm animals-horses in particular. The College of Veterinary Medicine is forward looking and I know that Mrs. Wilson was involved and supportive of it while alive. I’m happy to continue that connection in the form of her legacy.”
Matilda Wilson served as an MSU trustee from 1931 to 1937 and was named trustee emeritus in 1960. MSU gave her an honorary degree in 1955 and named Wilson Residence Hall in honor of her and her husband in 1962. In 1957, the Wilsons gave most of their land holdings, including Meadow Brook Hall, and a $200 million endowment to MSU to found a branch of the university that eventually became the independent institution Oakland University. Matilda Wilson also helped fund the John A. Hannah endowed chairs.
In 1985 the Matilda R. Wilson Fund, a charitable trust she had established in Detroit, gave more than $1 million to MSU to establish the Matilda R. Wilson Chair in Large Animal Clinical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and in 1998 it gave another $1.5 million to create the Matilda R. Wilson Equine Respiratory Disease Research Endowment in the college.
Speaking four decades ago, Matilda Wilson said, “My long association with MSU has shown me the tremendous contribution it is making to our educational and cultural life.”
From MSU PARTNERS Winter 2000