March 7, 2012
Ili Mae Harrison, who served at OBU for 29 years as a professor of home economics, died Feb. 29, 2012, in Shawnee following a short illness. She was 96.
Harrison served at OBU from 1948-77. She arrived on Bison Hill as an instructor of home economics and became an assistant professor in 1950. She received tenure in 1953 and achieved the rank of associate professor in 1956. Following her retirement in 1977, she was named professor emerita of home economics in 1978.
Born to Joe and Berma Good on Jan. 13, 1916, in Amity, Ark., she was the first female graduate of Amity High School to attend college. After earning a bachelor’s degree at Arkansas Teachers College in Conway and a master’s degree at Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University) in Stillwater, she taught school in Arkansas and Wewoka, Okla.
In 1940, Ili Mae Good moved to Shawnee, where she met and married Paul L. Wilson of the Wilson Greenhouse family. The couple had a son, Paul Alan. Tragically, the senior Paul Wilson died in an automobile accident before the birth of the couple’s second son, Phillip.
Mrs. Wilson took a position at OBU, where she headed the home economics department for nearly 30 years while raising her sons. One of her students was Athalea Mastin from 1949-53, who said the young widow brought no grief to class.
“My teacher of four years, she was youthful in appearance and heart and led classes in sewing, health, home design, nutrition and even Home Ec for men, which my husband and friends enjoyed,” Mastin said. “Mrs. Wilson treated her students equally well, but noted the college life of each one and provided encouragement and fun where needed.”
Wilson involved her students in meetings and projects. When applicable, she included her sons in various interesting activities, such as bearing the train of the Harvest Queen’s robe. In 1972, Wilson married George Harrison.
“Ili Mae Harrison was an excellent role model for her students,” said Tom Terry, vice president emeritus for business affairs. “She had an optimistic spirit about her that helped her get through difficulties. When she began teaching home economics at OBU, she was a widow with two young children. Fortunately they could be cared for at Kiddie Kottage across the street at University Baptist Church. During her years of teaching, she arranged many opportunities for her students to practice their skills, including preparing lunch for the OBU Board of Trustees on several occasions.”
Mastin said the Harrisons shared many interesting days. They journeyed across the United States in a travel trailer, volunteered with the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program and actively participated at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. George Harrison died in 1987.
“Ili Mae Harrison retired from OBU several years before I came,” said Dr. Roger Hadley, Patterson professor of journalism and professor of telecommunication at OBU. “I met her through her son, Phil, and daughter-in-law, Patty. Ili Mae loved sports and especially OBU basketball, where you could always find her rooting for the Bison at home games. She could speak authoritatively of players and their contributions.”
Harrison continued volunteer work with the City of Shawnee beautification program and the local hospital, took cruises with female friends, exercised with the YMCA water aerobics class, read thousands of library books and became a passionate fan of the University of Oklahoma football.
In the late 1980s, she moved to The Towers Retirement Homes in Shawnee, where she participated in resident government, exercise and health classes, acrylic painting and bingo. She later relocated to Avonlea Cottage in Shawnee. While in her 80s, Harrison tried to convince Manoi Adair, a fellow OBU emerita faculty member, to join her in weight lifting.
“A few years ago, I invited Ili Mae to the fall opening faculty dinner,” Hadley said. “She was the oldest emeritus professor in attendance, and she loved being reunited with friends and colleagues from the past. Ili Mae was the personification of optimism. Despite difficult circumstances, she never felt sorry for herself. Her smile and kindness I shall cherish always.”
Mastin said, “What a lovely spreader of knowledge and good times Mrs. Harrison was all of her life.”
Harrison was predeceased by her parents; her brother, Emmett Good; a daughter, Paula, who died at birth; and her husbands, Paul L. Wilson and George R. Harrison.
She is survived by her two sons and daughters-in-law, Paul and Donna Wilson of Cypress, Texas, and Phil and Patty Wilson of Shawnee; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.