Generations of the Wilkinson family have helped to guide Chapman University’s growth through their generosity and visionary leadership. Chapman alumna Karen Wilkinson ’69 joined the Board of Trustees in 2000, continuing her family’s tradition of service. Karen, a sociologist, is head of the Department of Liberal Studies at Kettering University in Flint, Michigan.
Karen’s grandfather, J. Errett Wilkinson, and father, Harmon, served on the board before her, helping to create a Wilkinson legacy at Chapman that has lasted more than 70 years.
Wilkinson Hall, which has the distinction of being the oldest continually occupied building of education in Orange County, is named in honor of J.E. Wilkinson – a trustee, chairman of the board and acting president of Chapman College who helped to keep the institution afloat through the depression and World War II.
The Wilkinson family's service to Chapman stems from their deep connection with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the university’s founding faith denomination. J. E. Wilkinson became involved with the then-California Christian College because he was an active layman in the Disciples of Christ along with Charles C. Chapman. In the early days, the Southern California Disciples worked to build a college that reflected their values—a vision for higher education that builds the whole person, especially including the moral and spiritual dimensions.
Former Chapman College President John L. Davis described J. E. Wilkinson as a "truly great Christian layman." He actively strengthened Disciples congregations wherever he went, helping to found several Christian Churches in Edmonton, Canada, and lending his leadership to many churches in Southern California.
J.E. Wilkinson founded the Western Linen Supply Company in Los Angeles in 1928. Prior to that, he worked in public relations and advertising, and was a graduate of Cotner College in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Since 1937 when he became a trustee of Chapman College, he pledged 30 percent of his income to worthy causes, and Chapman held the highest priority among them. He served the Board of Trustees for 32 years, serving for 23 years as board chairman. In the early 1940s, when Chapman was threatened with bankruptcy, he mortgaged his business to lend the proceeds to save it.
In his eulogy, President Davis said, “It is a simple statement of fact that the College would not exist today without the devoted, generous, all-inclusive work of J. E. Wilkinson.”
Harmon and Nadine Wilkinson became loyal supporters of Chapman because of their experiences as Chapman students. In their later years they helped to shape Chapman’s values-centered liberal arts experience, providing funding for the chapel, student scholarships and special events, and establishing the Delp-Wilkinson Peace Lecture Series and Delp-Wilkinson Endowed Chair of Peace Studies. The faculty of Wilkinson College voted to name the college for Harmon in appreciation for his service.
Over the years, Harmon was a Chapman student (graduating from California Christian College in 1935), active alumnus, respected trustee, and, along with Nadine, was the recipient of the 2002 Albert Schweitzer Award of Excellence.
The commitment of Harmon and Nadine to issues of peace and social justice spanned their lifetimes. During World War II, a “popular” war in the eyes of many Americans, Harmon served as a conscientious objector. His alternative service was in the field of mental health, and Nadine accompanied him. They and others helped to humanize the institutions in which they worked.
Harmon passed away in February 2006 at age 93, followed by Nadine in December 2006. Read more about them here.