Two powerful words.
One kind, gentle man.
Stuart Harlan Wildman – father of seven, company president, artist, scholar – journeyed through 90 years of life, and its many challenges, with a grace that amazed his family and friends. His grace shone brightest during his final 18 months, after he fell and suffered complications after back surgery. He lost the use of his legs, but not his heart. He persevered through daily pain and taught his children one final lesson, that life is precious - every hour of it. Despite being unable to eat by mouth, despite being bedridden for all but one hour a day, Stu grabbed for every morsel of life he could gain. Through sheer will and positive attitude, Stu surpassed his doctors’ grim expectations and lived to see his youngest son, Andrew, marry and to hold his first great grandchild, Harper Lee Stimmel. Asked, “How are you feeling today?” Stu invariably would reply, “I’m, okay, but let’s talk about how you are doing.” His brave ruse made those who cared for him hurt a little less. Stu’s pain ended on a dreary, rainy day, Friday July, 3, 2015, just two months after his 90th birthday and one week after his 68th wedding anniversary with his wife Ann Bennett Wildman. Stu’s long life journey began in Chicago on May 9, 1925, when he was born to Harry and Mildred Wildman. He grew up with an older brother, Neol, and younger sister, Maryls, in Elmhurst, Illinois. Stu excelled in school and, despite his short stature, played football, basketball and ran track and field. He graduated near the top of his class, and was a class officer, at York Community High School in Elmhurst. With World War II well underway, Stu joined the Army Air Corps. He was a Second Lieutenant and trained in 1944 and 1945 near San Antonio, Texas as a B17 Bomber navigator. As the war wound down, he remained stateside. “I fought the battle of Texas,” he would quip. After military service, Stu enrolled in DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, where he met his future wife, Ann Bennett. As he would try to do throughout his marriage, Stu had met Ann halfway: he had come about 200 miles from Elmhurst; she had come about 200 miles from Westerville, Ohio. They married on June 27, 1947 and both graduated in 1948. Stu’s bachelor’s degree came with a double major in accounting and English literature. Not only was he adept at words and numbers, he also had artistic gifts, evident at DePauw where he created paintings in studio space cleared for him by impressed professors. After DePauw, Stu hoped to become an English professor, to share his love of literature and writing with college students. He was accepted into graduate school as a teaching fellow by Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. By now, though, Stu and Ann had one child, and a second was on the way. A major move from the Midwest to the South, away from family, seemed daunting. Instead, they settled in Columbus and Stu began graduate studies at Ohio State University. During summer break from OSU, in July 1949, Stu began working for his father-in-law, Charles Bennett, owner of Bennett Manufacturing Company in Westerville. The company, founded in 1883, made pallets and other wood products. Even though Stu was working fulltime as a foreman and later vice president at Bennett’s, he continued toward his teaching goal at OSU. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1956 and had nearly completed work toward a master’s degree in English literature by the summer of 1957. But fate called for a major moment of grace from Stu on August 15, 1957. That day Charles Bennett died unexpectedly of a heart attack in his office. By now with six children to support, Stu’s ambition had to give way to necessity. He took over the helm at Bennett’s and bid adieu to becoming Professor Wildman. He took on the new challenge without pause, without complaint and led the company to some of its most profitable years in the 1960s before liquidating it in 1972. Besides running Bennett’s six days a week, Stu spent Sundays doing the bookkeeping at Northern Lights Harmony House, a greeting card and music shop in Columbus owned by his father-in-law. Stu is remembered by family for working long hours, but also for finding time for camping and trips to Lake Erie or to his hometown of Elmhurst. Besides his family, Stu also loved a glass of wine and a thoughtful book. Among the authors he admired were Cormac McCarthy, John Updike, Carl Sagan, and Don DeLillo. Stu read widely about science, religion and philosophy, and was known to ask others questions such as, “Do you think we have free will, or is our life scripted?” When Stu was in his mid-80s, he told one son he felt he was having “an aging spurt” and lamented that death was inevitable. “I can’t die yet,” he said. “There are too many great books I haven’t read.” In retirement, Stu rekindled his passion for art. He stopped making rough wooden pallets and began crafting smooth, elegant miniature picture frames that he sold at arts and crafts shows throughout Ohio. In 2011, Stu and Ann moved into the retirement community of Friendship Village of Columbus, where Stu is remembered fondly for walking the stairs and halls for exercise and for enjoying wii bowling and book discussion groups. He also is remembered for New Year’s Day, 2015, when, despite his mounting medical problems, he spent the day phoning friends with best wishes and predictions of a great year ahead. The Wildman family is deeply grateful for the love and support shown Stu and family by the residents and staff at Friendship Village, particularly the many doctors, nurses and aides who helped him. The family also thanks Stu’s many friends and family members near and far who offered encouragement, including members of The Church of the Messiah United Methodist in Westerville, where Stu was a longtime member. The family asks those who wish to make a contribution in Stu’s memory to donate to the Church of the Messiah’s debt reduction fund. Stu is survived by his wife Ann, daughter Kathy Wildman of Grafton, West Virginia, daughter Linda Conley of Sunbury, son John (Diane) of Oak Island, North Carolina, son Charles (Terumi) of San Pablo, California, son Andrew (Colleen) of Westerville and by his brother, Neol, of Camarillo, California. Stu is survived by four grandchildren: Thomas Wildman of Southport, North Carolina, Chase Conley and Laura Conley of Sunbury, and Jessica (Sean) Stimmel of Delaware, and by step granddaughter Laura Hunter of Oak Island, North Carolina. He is survived by one great granddaughter, Harper Lee Stimmel, of Delaware, and by three step great grandsons: Eli, Max and Leo Hunter of Oak Island, North Carolina. Stu was preceded in death by his parents, his sons Michael and Kevin and by his sister Maryls. Memorial Services will be held at 3:00 PM, Sunday, September 13, 2015 at The Church of The Messiah, 51, N. State St., Westerville.