DONALD ’35 AND CATHERINE WILCOX
Don and Catherine Wilcox established a living trust to provide a future engineering student with the same life-changing opportunity that Cooper gave Don, whose background offered very few financial or social advantages. He was born in the Bronx in 1913 and was raised primarily by aunts and uncles after his parents separated and his mother grew ill. Ever industrious, Don found work at both the New York Public Library and the Wall Street Club while attending high school. In 1930 he passed the competitive entrance exams at The Cooper Union and undertook the rigorous five-year program of night school courses in electrical engineering, even while he continued to work his two jobs during the daytime.
Don still managed to find the time to take dancing classes, as his wife, Catherine related to their nieces, Barbara McMullin and Patty Pollak, years later. “My brother worked at the library too and he introduced us: that is how Don & I met,” Catherine said, “I was 16 and he 17 years old, romantic yeah! Don was quite a dancer. The big hotels had ballroom dancing and we would dance to the big bands! Don would always accompany me home on the train even though he was exhausted with all he was doing.”
Catherine told Barbara and Patty about Don’s years at Cooper and his career after graduation. “While at Cooper, Don met a fellow student whose friendship meant a lot to him: Bill Zuick. Bill had perfect parents, although his father had an ordinary job selling linens to restaurants and the usual very low income of the time (Great Depression), the Zuick’s opened their home and hearts to all young people, students and friends alike. Don and I will never forget the Zuicks: Would that all parents were that perfect.”
“After graduation from Cooper Union in 1935 Don got a job with Sperry Corp, a company that tested rail and track for different railroads in the U.S. and Canada. It was a perfect job for Don: he was always adventurous. The men, four or five and a cook, travelled and lived on the railroad car that also had the testing equipment on board. Don really saw the country, as far away as Alaska, as they worked and he loved it. He was promoted to chief operator, the farthest he could go. Don was with Sperry when we married in 1939 but realized he needed to get something else because he could be away from home for up to a year at a time.”
“Jobs were hard to find in those days but I encouraged Don to try for something else. I had a nice secretarial job with Union Carbide so we had some money coming in. Don went to an agency and made a good connection thanks to his degree from Cooper Union: sales engineer with an English company that had a plant in Long Island City. He called on steel mills, automotive companies, etc. It meant travelling but he could be home on weekends. I always helped Don all I could: he would dictate his reports and I would type them. Also it meant entertaining customers, etc. We always ‘worked’ as a team. Don in time handled the company’s largest accounts, and in 1945 we were transferred to Cleveland, Ohio where we built our ‘dream house.” He stayed with this company until he retired and we moved to Sarasota, Florida to enjoy our retirement, and we enjoyed it so much!”
Chosen to serve as Trustee for the Donald R. and Catherine S. Wilcox Living Trust, Barbara McMullin discharged her duties with diligence and love. “Don and Catherine were so appreciative of the education he received during the Great Depression that they wanted to leave something to Cooper Union in the hope it would be used to provide financial aid to new engineering students,” Barbara recalls. “Their trust specified a lump sum payment of $50,000, never imagining that Catherine would outlive her funds. She lived to 101 years and the last three required around the clock care as well as living in Freedom Village Nursing home. While we were not able to fully fund the entire amount to Cooper, we were able to give $40,354 by the time all the expenses were paid, but it left nothing for the family. While it would have been better for the family if the trust had established a percentage to be given as opposed to a lump sum, we are proud that their wishes were honored and are so pleased that Cooper Union is recognizing the alumni that are so faithful to this fine institution.”