Celebrating a Life Well Lived
Marlene Wiley
Neil Wiley

Marlene grew up on a rented farm near a small town in Illinois. She was a gentle, little farm girl who grew up to be the only person in her family to graduate from college. She received a bachelor’s degree in history from small, private Milliken University, and a master’s degree in history from the very large University of Illinois.

While Neil was on active duty in the Army Reserve, Marlene taught American history at Joliet High School and Junior College. They married a few months later in Paris, not in France, but Illinois. The next year they moved to a suburb closer to Chicago. Marlene taught history there while Neil started his advertising career in Chicago.

A few years later, Marlene and a baby only a few weeks old moved to California to join her husband in Sunnyvale, California. A few years later, they made another important move to their one and only home in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Her college friends called her Snips. I called her Bunny, but her children called her Perfect Mom.
Her proudest achievement was raising four intelligent, independent daughters: Lisa, Jill, April, and Nancy, through Loma Prieta Elementary, C.T. English Middle School, Los Gatos High School, to college graduations, successful careers, and motherhood.

She was my lifetime partner in love, work, and play. For the best part of our lives, we were together 24 hours a day. She was my secretary who would type manuscripts in the middle of the night, the bookkeeper for several businesses, and the cheerleader for our family. She was a serious person who devoted time to reading and writing history, creating genealogies and family records, planning programs for her mountain-history study group, and filling rooms with family and mountain-history archives.

She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She built so many rock walls that she earned the title of Rocky Raccoon, but she was also a bricklayer, woodworker, tile cutter, and our gardener who won many ribbons in iris competitions.

She always had projects, and she tackled each one with a focused determination. When she took a stepping-stone class, her fellow students made a few; she made 22. We played party bridge, but Marlene graduated to duplicate where she and her partner won a championship. Many people research their family history, but Marlene researched, wrote, and published a 632-page genealogy, complete with detailed family structures, descriptions, and unique family stories.

Her interest in mountain history led to her formation of the Mountain History Study Group, rooms full of historical archives, and many years of meetings, tours, interviews, and articles.

When our girls were in school, Marlene was elected (not appointed) as president of the Loma Prieta Home and School Club. Her achievements included a highly successful spring carnival, and the construction of booths and games. Together, we successfully supported many school-board campaigns, bond issues, and parcel taxes.

It wasn’t all sweetness and light. When children, teachers, or volunteers were mistreated by administrators or boards, Marlene stepped up. She was a gentle person, but she fought injustices that led to changes at the top.

Marlene was honored by the community she loved. In 1998, she received a gold medal and a Certificate of Appreciation from the Loma Prieta Community Foundation. In 2010, she was honored with a Certificate of Excellence from the Loma Prieta Home and School Club. She is a past president and an honorary life member of the Loma Prieta Club.

As a co-founder of Mountain Network News, she wrote People and History columns, shared in the editing, handled the administrative work that the rest of us tried to ignore, and served as our publisher who gave us the necessary structure and deadlines.

She loved fun, too. Although I wanted to stay home and work, Marlene encouraged travel. Our family enjoyed vacations with families in the Midwest, annual float trips on rivers throughout the west, and an unforgettable ten days in Maui.

Marlene and I had our own short history, hiking, and photography trips. Others took us to Europe, Central America, British Columbia, Mexico, Hawaii, Tahiti, Guadalupe, the Virgin Islands, Kenya, and Egypt. She was an enthusiastic, happy travel partner, up for any adventure. She loved to dance, and one night in Tahiti, we danced until dawn.

Our life was good, and it peaked with our fiftieth anniversary weekend, including a party for the mountain community at the Loma Prieta Community Center, and a dinner for our extended family and out-of-town guests.

In the following years, Marlene’s health slowly deteriorated with devastating, irreversible Alzheimer’s. As the disease progressed, friends and family visits were fewer and shorter. The void was filled by hospice—bath women Bagan, Vilma, and Cynthia who washed her from top to toes twice a week, our music therapist Anya who sang Marlene’s favorite songs, our case-worker Jennifer who gently coached me through the process, and a friendly and funny nurse Erika, who every week brought us more than medicine.

For her last eleven months, we were blessed with a caregiver who gave Marlene compassionate, competent care, nine hours a day, seven days a week. I know where women like these come from—the Philippines. Thank you, Trisha. You made Marlene’s last days more bearable.

Marlene is survived by her husband Neil, her daughters Lisa, Jill, April, and Nancy, her grandchildren Wiley, Joshua, Natalie, Daniel, Emme, Wyatt, and Morgan, her sister Kay, her brother Russell, her sister-in-law Nancy, her brother-in-law Gale, and many cousins and other family members.

Although the last few years were difficult, Marlene’s life was full and rewarding. Death came too soon, but as an old traveler said, it isn’t the destination; it’s the journey. She enjoyed a happy and meaningful life. Can anyone ask for anything more?

We invite our community to share in a celebration of Marlene Wiley’s life on February 10 in the Loma Prieta Elementary School forum, 23800 Summit Road, beginning at 4 p.m.

In this informal setting, we will share stories and pictures of Marlene’s life.

One note: Theatre in the Mountains will be performing shows next door in the Community Center at 1 and 7 p.m. Most of the audience from the 1 o’clock show should be gone before our celebration, but don’t be surprised to see some people on the way out as you come in.