WILMINGTON — Willard E. Lane attended Wilmington College for only one year, 1941-42, yet that experience impacted his life to the extent he stated a few years ago, “I don’t know where I’d be if not for Wilmington College.”
Indeed, he traced WC’s influence from his pursuing dentistry to meeting the woman who became his beloved wife of 65 years.
The retired local dentist never forgot his alma mater. He became a leadership donor and was a regular presence on campus for sports, cultural programs and lunches in the dining hall as late as several weeks before his passing in April — a few months short of his 99th birthday.
The College recognized Lane posthumously as 2022 Philanthropist-of-the-Year at its annual Philanthropic Leadership Dinner last Friday evening.
Lane was a regular contributor to the Annual Fund but also supported such capital projects as the renovation/expansion of the former Boyd Auditorium and Kettering Science Hall and construction of the Center for Sport Sciences.
A basketball and tennis player while attending the College, Lane generosity also supported the basketball and soccer teams, as well as the College/Community Summer Theatre.
President Trevor Bates recalled first meeting Lane the same day in August 2021 when he first met several hundred new students — students who started their Wilmington College experience exactly 80 years after Lane donned a freshman beanie in 1941. “I remember the face. I remember the energy and I remember the twinkle in his eye,” Bates said. “Willard loved this place and to love is to care and to give. The College benefitted from his goodwill, generosity and spirit.”
Lane’s son, David, accepted the award on behalf of his family.
“Dad would have loved to have been here tonight,” he said. “We’d often drive through the campus, and he’d talk about the people here that were so important in his life. He loved Wilmington College!”
A video was shown featuring testimonials indicating Lane’s close connection with the College.
Bud Lewis, retired WC men’s soccer coach, was a great friend of Lane’s. They golfed together, watched WC sports and Lewis often brought him to have lunch at the College.
“I really paid a lot of attention to how well he lived in his later years,” Lewis said, noting it’s a “tribute to the discipline he had” that he walked and did pushups each day into his 90s. “I so enjoyed how he lived life so richly — he had many good friends and family gatherings. He always valued and appreciated Wilmington College.”
Steve Spirk, associate director of development and retired women’s soccer coach, recalled meeting Lane many years ago at the College. “I looked at him as maybe a grandfather I didn’t know. Mine passed away when I was very young. Willard talked about life lessons and things he did — I found those things to be fascinating.”
Gavin Heimlich is a sophomore at the College, a 6-9 basketball player who met Lane within his first days on campus. “I learned that he came here as a freshman basketball player 80 years before I did. I enjoyed talking with him about how the game has changed in 80 years. There was no shot clock, no slam dunks, no three-pointers. He joked with me that he would have been a pretty good three-point shooter.”