Past Presidents

Tom Kingston

Wilder Foundation President
from 1990 to 2010

A dedicated member of the Saint Paul community, Mr. Kingston joined the Wilder Foundation in 1980. A native of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, Tom attended Saint Mary’s University in Winona, joined the Christian Brothers upon graduation and began teaching at Cretin High School. In 1970, he was involved in the creation of a half-way home for adolescents with drug problems that provided residential and day treatment. Working with youth and addressing problems that no one else seemed to be doing was a natural fit with the work of the Wilder Foundation. He was hired by Leonard Wilkening to help with planning and strategic assessments. His first ten years were spent in a variety of positions that helped create the infrastructure and program quality and delivery. In 1990, he was named President. In his 20 years in the role, Mr. Kingston led a number of reconstructions of the foundation as the demographics of the Saint Paul community shifted significantly. Always oriented entirely toward serving the mission of the foundation – to serve the poor, sick and needy of Saint Paul, Mr. Kingston initiated culturally specific programs for African American youth and the growing Southeast Asian population, as well as initiating Achievement Plus, a partnership with Saint Paul Public Schools. He also oversaw the restructuring of the foundation in the 1990’s and again in 2009, helping to ensure that the Wilder Foundation will be here for good to the serve Saint Paul community.

Mr. Kingston has a master’s degree in teaching form St. Thomas College, a master’s equivalent in Special Education from the University of Minnesota, and a master’s degree in Business from the University of Minnesota. He is involved in numerous community and board memberships including Capital City Partnership, Regions Hospital, Opportunity Housing Investment Fund and the Saint Paul Rotary Club.Wilkening.gif

Leonard Wilkening

Wilder Foundation President
from 1971 to 1990

Mr. Wilkening served as President of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation from 1971 to1990. Under his guidance, the Wilder Foundation expanded programming to youth with the Saint Croix boys and girls camps, supported the development of Energy Park, created low-income housing and senior centers throughout Saint Paul, and established Wilder Research as pre-eminent social research group. In his capacity as President, Mr. Wilkening oversaw a staff of 1,200 working in areas of housing, mental health, aging, and child development, with many of the programs continuing to this day.

Mr. Wilkening was dedicated to serving those in need throughout his career. Mr. Wilkening was born in Canada and moved to Missouri with his family as a teenager. He was valedictorian of his high school class, and joined the Navy during WWII. After the war, he took a job at YMCA in Cedar Rapids, Iowa while attending college there. He went on to lead the YMCA in Spencer, Iowa, Canton, Ohio and Racine Wisconsin. In 1968, he was contacted by Frank Rarig, then Wilder Foundation President, and with his wife and four children, moved to Saint Paul. Mr. Wilkening joined Wilder as Associate Director working with Mr. Rarig and in 1971 became the fourth foundation president in its history.

Mr. Wilkening served the community in many capacities and in addition to his role as Wilder President, served on the boards of the Minnesota Foundation, the Como Zoo and Conservatory, United Hospital Foundation, and Hamline United Methodist Church Council. He had a Bachelor Degree in Business and earned a Master Degree in Sociology from Kent University in Canton Ohio

Frank Rarig

Wilder Foundation President
from 1941 to 1971

In 1940, the aging President of the Wilder Foundation, Charles Spencer suggested to the board of directors that he step down in favor of a younger man. Instead, the board chose to appoint Frank Rarig as Spencer’s executive secretary, to relieve the president of some of his duties. Upon Spencer’s death the next year, Rarig assumed the presidency in 1941.

Mr. Rarig was born in Chicago and grew up in the Prospect Park area of Minneapolis, graduating from University High School and later from the University of Minnesota. His interest in social welfare led to an appointment as executive secretary of the Emergency Relief Administration for Minnesota. He worked briefly in Washington D.C. on the Works Progress Administration and returned to Minnesota to become executive secretary of the Ramsey County Board of Public Welfare. In 1940, he was appointed executive secretary of the Wilder Charity, the name was changed to Wilder Foundation in 1953. During World War II, he was appointed War Manpower Commissioner for the region, tasked with recruiting workers to meet war-related needs.

Prior to joining the Wilder Charity, Rarig held executive posts with a variety of Minnesota social welfare agencies. In 1932, at the age of 25, he was appointed executive secretary of the Emergency Relief Administration for Minnesota. In 1934, he worked briefly in Indiana, as assistant director for the state's relief administration, and in Washington, D.C., as director of the Project Control Division of the Works Progress Administration. He returned to Minnesota in 1935 to become executive secretary of the Ramsey County Board of Public Welfare. During the war, while still working for the Wilder Charity, Rarig was appointed War Manpower Commissioner for the region.

After the war Rarig continued to work for Wilder Charity, which changed its name to the Wilder Foundation in 1953. Under his direction, the foundation’s assets increased from $300,000 to over $5 million during his tenure as president. Rarig died at a Wilder Foundation Nursing Home in 1995, at age 86.

Frank Rarig’s goal in life was to make the world a better place. And through his many years of service to the state of Minnesota and to the Wilder Foundation, he impacted thousands of children, families and older adults throughout the east metro. Mr. Rarig identified a number of unmet needs in the Saint Paul community, he helped develop recreation centers for seniors, nutrition centers, low cost dental and medical clinics, and he provided leadership in planning for social programs in Saint Paul. Mr. Rarig was a man with strong passion and principle for his work. Under his leadership, the span of social service programs provided by the foundation expanded greatly. Wilder’s first full-time research and statistics department opened, day care centers designed especially for children with special emotional and physical problems were created and a special day camp opened for city children to enjoy outdoor life. After many years of planning, Mr. Rarig’s long-held dream of providing services for older members of the community was achieved with the development of a nursing and assisted living campus.

Mr. Rarig served as the Foundation President until his retirement in 1971. He was married to Helen Reilly and they had three daughters: Joanna Victor, Margaret A. Rarig and Patricia Peverill. Spencer2.gif

Charles Spencer

Wilder Foundation President
from 1921 to 1941

Charles Spencer was the nephew of Fanny Spencer Wilder and a close associate of Amherst H. Wilder. He was born in Utica, New York, in 1855 and soon after moved to St. Paul with his family. Spencer was an early graduate of Saint Paul’s Central High School. He attended Yale University, and then studied law in St. Paul with the firm of Young & Newell. From 1880 to 1885, Spencer lived in Montana, where he was “engaged in newspaper work and in sheep ranching.” In 1885 he returned to Saint Paul to serve as deputy clerk of the United States District court under his father, William A. Spencer, who was appointed to the position by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The younger Spencer married Margaret S. Clough, daughter of Colonel William P. Clough, in 1890, and succeeded his father as clerk of the district court upon the elder Spencer’s death in 1897.

Spencer was an original board member of the Wilder Charity, beginning in 1910. After the death of Victor Watkins in 1921, Spencer resigned his position as clerk to become the second president of the Wilder Charity. Charles Spencer was the President of the Wilder Foundation from 1921 until his death in 1941.

Mr. Spencer was a trusted member of the Wilder family and was named executor of both Fanny and Cornelia Day Wilder’s wills. He worked closely with Mr. Watkins and provided steady direction to the charity, overseeing the operations of the the Wilder Bath, the Day Nursery and providing direct aid to the poor, sick and needy of Saint Paul. A great dog lover, he estimated owning over 50 different dogs during his lifetime. Mr. Spencer died at age 86 in 1941.

Victor Watkins

Director Trustee for the estate of Amherst Wilder, Cornelia Day Wilder and Fanny Spencer Wilder and President of the Amherst H. Wilder Charity from 1910 to 1921

Victor Waktins was born in Newburgh, New York in 1838. After working in his family’s banking business he moved to St. Paul in 1880, at the age of 42, to enter the employment of the Merchants National Bank, then headed by John L. Merriam. This position quickly led to him becoming financial secretary and a close advisor for Amherst H. Wilder, a close associate of Merriam’s, in about 1881. Watkins continued to manage the Wilder family business holdings after Amherst Wilder’s death in 1894. Before Fanny S. Wilder died in 1903, she named Watkins as the executive officer of the executors of her will and of any corporation formed with the provisions of her will. In addition to serving as President of the Wilder Charity from 1910 to 1921, Watkins served on the board of directors for the Merchants’ National Bank, the St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company, the St. Paul Foundry Company, and the Superior Water, Light and Power Company. He was also the senior warden at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, the same church attended by the Wilder family.

Mr. Watkins presided at the first meeting of the Board of Directors and at every meeting until the week before his death. Mr. Watkins was a chief executive in the administration of Amherst Wilder’s business affairs from 1880-1894. Greatly trusted and esteemed by Mr. Wilder, Mr. Watkins managed the affairs of the Wilder family until the death of Amherst’s wife and daughter in 1903. For more than 20 years, the interests of the Wilder Family was Mr. Watkin’s highest priority. Fidelity to the family and its wishes inspired the active part taken by him through years of litigation in defending the wills and made possible the establishment of the Amherst H. Wilder Charity.

According to records, Mr. Watkins had fine business abilities, kindly sympathy and enlightened judgment to the proper application of aid for the poor of Saint Paul.



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