From small New England towns came Colby-Sawyer’s biggest supporter, and from our small college came a groundbreaking attorney and public servant who never forgot her alma mater in New London.
Almost a year after her death in July 2018 at the age of 96, the generosity of former trustee Janice H. Wilkins ’41 is more evident than ever as Colby-Sawyer becomes the appreciative recipient of half her estate. This thoughtfully planned gift, the first part of which is a $2.5 million distribution, brings her lifelong commitment to nearly $4 million and makes Wilkins’s one of the college’s most generous donors.
Wilkins’s support included stock gifts; resources for faculty enrichment and, through the bequest, faculty housing; capital projects such as Lethbridge Lodge; and unrestricted gifts that enabled the college to attend to immediate needs and initiatives while allowing it the opportunity to plan for the future.
She considered Colby-Sawyer her family in the truest sense of the word and hoped her gifts would ensure that the values of excellence, responsibility, community and connectedness she learned here would be available to future generations of students. There is no doubt that her bequest is transformative and will impact the college for years to come by funding new initiatives and the highest priorities of the board and president.
“Jan Wilkins blazed new trails as a professional, and her generous gift to Colby-Sawyer will enable the college to invest in our path ahead,” President Susan D. Stuebner said. “A portion of the gift will support faculty’s access to affordable housing that is integrated into campus life. The majority of the gift is unrestricted, and I will work with the trustees to ensure Jan’s substantial gift is used in a way that has the greatest impact on preserving and enhancing a high quality educational experience for our students.”
Wilkins was born in Brewer, Maine; her family moved to East Walpole, Mass., in 1923. At Colby-Sawyer, Wilkins discovered her talents, developed her abilities and adapted to change as she earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts and sciences; her yearbook describes her as an intriguing mix of “dependable, reserved and fun to know,” a kind woman with a sense of humor and lively mind who delighted in history, literature, politics, sports and world affairs. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in history and government from the University of Maine and a law degree from Boston University.
Wilkins was admitted to the bar in 1947 and was an intellectual property lawyer for Walpole’s Kendall Corporation. In 1953, she was the first woman to run for and be elected a selectman in the town (and one of the first in the state). She served 10 terms and was involved with Walpole’s Salvation Army Fund and Girl Scouts Council; she also wrote the articles of incorporation for the town’s first Little League.
In 1963, Wilkins moved to New York City to take a position in trademark law with the American Cyanamid Corporation. She then joined the Olin Corporation, and through its subsidiary, Squibb, turned her focus to international trade law before returning to Massachusetts and the Kendall Company as head of its trademark department, where she worked until she retired at age 80.