NORTHPORT – Ilene Harriet Wolcott, 72, of Northport, passed away Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 at University of Michigan Hospital.
Ilene Harriet Wolcott was born on Feb. 22, 1941 in Newark, N.J. She grew up in New Jersey in a close, extended Jewish family, sharing summers at the Jersey Shore and weekends in the Catskills. She attended the University of Rochester, then New York University, and graduated from Kean College with a teaching degree.
Ilene married Thomas Asher in 1962 and the next year started teaching in a “blackboard jungle” school in West Harlem, then in a suburb of Detroit, and next in Queens, New York City. Her daughter Lauren was born in Washington, DC in 1966. Ilene received an Master of Arts in counseling from American University in 1973.
After her divorce, Ilene married Peter Wolcott in 1972 in Leland, Mich., gaining three stepchildren as well. She spent her first year of marriage studying Finnish at the Foreign Service Institute in Washington in preparation for Peter’s assignment to Finland. In Helsinki she taught sixth grade at the British School. She loved the snow, clouds, and pine trees of Finland. On her return to Washington she started a new career as the first manager of The Women and Health Roundtable. As a national advocate she researched, wrote, gave speeches, and testified before Congress about the need for increased attention and resources for health issues affecting women.
Ilene moved with Peter to Melbourne, Australia in 1979, where he was the public affairs officer in the American Consulate. Determined to have her own work and identity rather than be a traditional Foreign Service wife, she was quickly employed as editor of the Social-Biology Resource Centre Journal. In 1980 she was hired as one of the first researchers at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. She researched and wrote 27 publications on family issues, which were widely cited by scholars around the world. She loved to travel throughout Australia, fearlessly riding on planes ranging from air force transports to single engine desert hoppers.
She was a judge for the Australian and New Zealand Work and Family Corporate Awards, and a keynote speaker at Australian Bicentennial Events on family and work/family issues. In addition to frequent media interviews, she often lectured to university classes, captivating audiences by illustrating her talks with New Yorker cartoons and popular music.
Ilene was a passionate supporter of family planning. In Washington she was a fearless Planned Parenthood volunteer, often the only white volunteer at DC General Hospital and hosting teenage “rap” sessions. In Australia she became the president of the State of Victoria’s Family Planning Association and vice president of the Australian Family Planning Association. She represented the Institute of Family Studies at the annual Meetings of the Marriage Guidance Council of Australia, where she not only gave annual lectures, but also mediated between feminists and religious conservatives. Tireless, she also qualified and volunteered as a marriage and a pre-marital counselor.
After retiring in 1999, Ilene spent several years working at Swinburne University in Melbourne as a qualitative researcher, specializing in finishing projects for academic procrastinators. That year she and Peter also began spending the North American winter months in Leelanau County and Australian winter months in Melbourne. Ilene had many friends on both continents, sharing long hikes and beach holidays. In Michigan she loved to cross-country ski, walk in the autumn leaves, and participate in community activities. In 2012 she and Peter built a home on Lake Michigan north of Northport.
She was on the Board of the Leelanau Historical Society and the Northport Area Historical Association. Ilene worked at both museums as an archivist and wrote a number of articles on Leelanau County history for the local weekly newspaper the Leelanau Enterprise. An avid hiker, she walked and skied on Fridays with the Leelanau Walkie Talkies. She painted on Tuesday mornings with the Leland Community Cultural Center and joined their art exhibits. She was a member of writing and quilting groups and was treasurer of the Northport Energy Action Taskforce.
Ilene loved nature and travel. She trekked the Milford Track in New Zealand with Australian friends, visited artist friends in Tuscany many times, and reveled in high altitude hikes in the Rockies. Throughout her life she sought to perfect her skills as a watercolorist, painting landscapes and still lifes as well as illustrated letters cherished by her eight grandchildren. She was also a quilter. She loved baking with her grandchildren and for friends, and cooking for dinner parties using recipes from her many cookbooks and Gourmet magazines.
Ilene’s final wish was to become a blue spruce. She will do so in Leelanau.
Ilene is survived by her husband, Peter; four children, Lauren Asher, Joel Wolcott, Jennifer Wolcott-Michelson, Victoria Wolcott and eight grandchildren, Adela, Nora, Maya, Reggie, Joelyz, Rex, Alexander and Elliot.
She was preceded in death by her parents.
A Celebration of Ilene’s life will be held at 4 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013 at the Trinity Church Hall in Northport. Burial in East Leland Cemetery has been held.
Memorials may be directed to Leelanau Conservancy, PO Box 1007, Leland, MI 49654; National Planned Parenthood, www.plannedparenthood.org and/or Northport Area Heritage Association, PO Box 453, Northport, MI 49670.
Please share memories with Ilene’s family at the online obituary at www.martinson.info.
Arrangements are with the Martinson Funeral Home of Suttons Bay.