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Honoring a Great Teacher

A tireless advocate for all things Emma Willard, Michal Colby Wadsworth ’65 shares her love for her alma mater through her dynamic philanthropy. Active Honorary Trustee, chair emerita of The 1814 Association leadership giving society, and campaign steering committee member, she founded the student philanthropic club—Phila—so generations of students could experience the rewarding art of grantmaking.

Michal also has a boiler named for her to recognize her support for facilities, signaling her belief that place matters. “We have a magnificent campus,” she says, “and we must maintain and renew these spaces.”

When Michal considered her Infinite Horizon campaign commitment, she sought to maintain her consistent annual giving through The Emma Fund, to endow Phila, and to join in support of the arts through the Alice Dodge Wallace ’38 Center for the Performing Arts. One thought tugged at her heart—the balcony. From that place nearly 50 years of Emma Willard students, including Michal, made joyful music under the direction of maestro Russell Locke. 

Under the Correlated Curriculum, which Michal speaks of with reverence, each year’s study centered on a period in the history of Western civilization. “Our humanities courses dove deeply in an integrated way into a particular period. Freshman year we studied Ancient Civilizations; sophomore year, the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation; junior year Modern European; and, senior year, American History,” she continues.

“Our music classes followed this focus. With less known about the music of ancient civilizations, freshman year we covered the foundations of music theory, and we learned sight reading. That led to enjoying the riches of Medieval plainsong as sophomores, and so on. For me, Russell Locke was the center of the Correlated Curriculum. Singing in choir was a joy. And senior year I was thrilled to be a Wait in Revels, to learn those lovely madrigals from him.

“He was kind, gentle, rye, but exacting. He coaxed the best out of us. I know we sounded great, and that’s because he made us work hard from pitch to tone to enunciation, often in Latin and German.”

Because of those formative experiences, Michal has reveled in music of all kinds. “I can celebrate the single note that connects the third and fourth movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. We would go down to New York City my senior year to experience opera, and I now serve on two opera boards. This really began with Russell Locke. 

“I think he must have loved being our teacher because he stayed for so many years, and he was so good. We all remember him and are grateful to him.

“His successor, Dr. Debra Spiro-Allen, has done great things over the last 20 years, and she sure had big shoes to fill. I know there are two decades of students already who speak about her the way I do about Russell Locke.”

“I was asked to speak at Russell Locke’s memorial service, and I remember saying as I looked out over that large gathering, ‘I thought he was mine alone.’ But there were so many lives he influenced. He was that great teacher, and he changed my life. 

“My husband Jim and I are so pleased we’re able to make this endowment gift to the current campaign in honor of this wonderful teacher,” Michal notes. “And look at what we’re doing with this campaign. Holy smoke! 

“Russell Locke always said the great thing about the Alma Mater was the last two lines. ‘O, touch each fleeting moment with friendship’s alchemy, the days that lie before us, our memories soon shall be.’ It rings true! I can't sing it without crying. It’s just beautiful,” Michal notes.

“I am absolutely confident that Emma Willard School always ‘shall be.’”

This piece was written for the Spring 2023 issue of Signature Magazine.

  • Alumnae
  • advancement
  • campaign
  • infinite horizon