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Follow Your Heart: Marion Wilson’s Winding Road to Retirement

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From the orange groves of Florida, to the Victorians of 1960s Haight-Ashbury – a cabin on a Montana dude ranch, to an eventual home in the High Plains – the stops on Marion Wilson’s road map have been filled with adventure, and fueled by a tenet to follow her heart. On June 5th, Marion will bid adieu to her latest stop at Village Shalom, and embark on what we hope will be her best voyage yet – retirement.  

Marion Kincaid grew up on a dairy farm in the shadows of Central Florida’s orange groves. When she wasn’t busy with chores, she was on a horse – practicing bareback riding, jumping and barrel racing with hopes of one day becoming a cowgirl “way out West.” All that practice provided several close encounters with the ground, which led Marion to pursue a safer form of animal interaction by studying veterinary medicine at the University of Florida.

 

Marion and her horse, “Midnite,” in the 1950s.

College always has its fair share of distractions – particularly for kids from the farm. And although her dreams of becoming a cowgirl had faded, the allure of “way out West” was still strong – especially for an adventurous spirit of the 1960s.  

“While at the University of Florida, I learned about beatniks, folk singers, the Civil Rights Movement, peace rallies and people goin’ to San Francisco with flowers in their hair.” she recalled, “So I grew my hair long, and went to San Francisco.” 

Marion arrived in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco at the height of the late ‘60s social experiment. Life there was as you would imagine.  

“I was living next door to a commune, and there were concerts and Hare Krishnas in the park.”

 

Marion running on a San Francisco beach in the early 1970s.

San Francisco was just the beginning of Marion’s adventures. In the early 1970s, she and a friend embarked on a memorable journey by hitchhiking their way through Mexico.

“That trip still amazes me, in that we met such warm and helpful people, and no harm came to us (two single young women).” she reflected, “Ignorance was bliss.”

Marion’s travels would eventually lead her to Corpus Christi, Texas, where, in 1977, she gave birth to her twin sons – Milo and Leon.  In 1980 the family headed to Montana, where Marion worked as an innkeeper at a dude ranch – a position she quipped as not too different from her current role with Village Shalom. 

 

Marion with her twin sons, Milo and Leon, outside of their cabin in Seeley Lake, Mont. in 1980.  

“We lived in a cabin heated by a wood stove. It was a family affair to keep the fire going.”

It was at this dude ranch where she met David Wilson – the dude she would eventually marry in 1993. It was David who encouraged her to go back and finish her college degree, which she did by starting back to school at the University of Montana. Marion worked her way through college as a CNA at a small privately owned nursing home. It was at this nursing home where the first bricks of her career path were laid, as she was quickly promoted to Social Service Designee – the position that first ignited her passion for social work.   

“Returning to college as a non-traditional student, and discovering that I could be a straight-A student was a real high point for me. I will always be grateful to my husband for believing in me and supporting that decision.”

In the early ‘90s, Marion traded Big Sky Country for the flatlands when Dave was hired as CEO of Smokey Hills Public TV in Hays, Kan. Marion finished her Bachelor of Social Work degree at Fort Hays State University and later her Master of Social Work at the University of Kansas – all while working in a senior-living setting. She and Dave would eventually land in Topeka, where Marion would serve as Director of Resident Services at the United Methodist Home, and later Director of Social Services at Aldersgate Village.

Marion and her husband, Dave, outside the Musee Picasso in Paris.

In 2005, Marion and Dave began looking into relocating to Overland Park. The perfect opportunity to do so would arise when Marion came across a posting for Village Shalom’s Admissions Coordinator position in the classifieds.

“If I could have written my ideal job description, it would have read like this announcement,” she remembered, “I always felt there was a serendipitous element in how everything came together.”

Marion began at Village Shalom in February of 2006, and went on to serve gracefully for more than nine years. In her time with Village Shalom she supervised numerous social work interns, served on the management team, and helped thousands of families find care for their loved ones.

 

Marion at Village Shalom in 2006.

“Village Shalom is the place where I was employed the longest, and is my favorite for many reasons, especially the many examples of human resilience and ability to transcend hatred and suffering through love and acts of kindness.”     

Gerean Rudnick (of blessed memory) would become Marion’s most memorable resident and friend during her time at Village Shalom.

“Gerean came in for a rehabilitation stay shortly after I began, and produced a YouTube video for her family that described Village Shalom as a ‘resort’ – which was a first in my experience.” Marion remembered fondly, “I saw her many times throughout the years, and she would always stop to say ‘hello’ and ‘I love you.’ She never stopped giving, loving and sharing a laugh – despite the many challenges she faced. She truly showed what a difference one person can make.”  

Mentoring new social workers was an incredibly rewarding experience for Marion. From 2008 to 2015, Marion supervised and mentored 12 interns from the University of Kansas and Kansas State University social work programs.

“I love sharing what I have learned in my life and social work career. When I learn of interns' successes as they move forward in their chosen fields, I am proud to have helped them on their journeys. I am so thrilled that one of my interns will be following me as Admissions Coordinator.”

So what’s next for Marion now that retirement has arrived? Well, as we’re sure you would imagine, traveling will be a big part of it. She and Dave have already visited exotic locales such as France, China, Tibet and Russia, and they are planning on taking a Caribbean cruise this winter.

 

Marion at a sidewalk café in the Montmartre district of Paris, France.

“With my experience in health care, I know that life can change in a minute, so it is important to my husband and I to take advantage of our good health, and travel while we can.”

Marion also plans to spend her new-found free time volunteering, writing her memoir and finally unpacking the boxes in her basement.

So now that her career is drawing to a close, is there any advice would she give to someone just starting out on their journey?

“Follow your heart. Go with what inspires and energizes you, not necessarily what will pay the most. Being in an environment that resonates with your values and gives you the satisfaction of contributing to positive change can make all the difference.”

Congratulations and good luck with the next stops on your road map, Marion. You will be missed. 

Marion Wilson today.