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Benefactor Mary Meader dies at age 91

March 20, 2008

Mary Upjohn Meader, a longtime Western Michigan University benefactor and director emerita of the WMU Foundation, died March 16 in Kalamazoo. She was 91.

Meader was an aviation pioneer, an ingenious photographer and a philanthropist who gave generously to education and the arts. She and her late husband, Edwin E. Meader, an adjunct professor of geography at WMU, were among the most-generous donors in the history of the University .

As a young woman in 1937, Meader flew over both South America and Africa and took a treasure trove of aerial photos that are still being used by scholars today. Representatives of the American Geographical Society asked Meader to sign the historic Flyers' and Explorers' Globe twice to mark those momentous flights.

She was the 79th person to sign the globe and one of only a handful to be honored by being invited to sign twice. Other signatories include Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Sir Edmond Hillary, Admiral Robert Perry, Admiral Richard Byrd and the Apollo 8 astronauts. In all, 80 expeditions since 1910 have been commemorated by having the route of the expedition shown and each flier, astronaut or expedition leader sign the globe.

The Meader signing took place during a 2006 ceremony in WMU's W.E. Upjohn Center for the Study of Geographical Change, which was launched in 2005 with a $4 million gift from the Meaders.

The focus of the center, which is named for Mary Meader's grandfather, is on preserving and using the work of past explorers and scientists and combining their discoveries with the technical capabilities of today's researchers. The facility, the only one of its kind in the world, uses the latest technology to preserve and create digital version of maps and aerial photography.

In addition, the W.H. Upjohn Rotunda, the entrance to WMU's main library, was named for Mary Meader's father, an early Upjohn Co. executive, in recognition of the Meaders' a $1 million leadership gift for the expansion and complete renovation of that facility in the early 1990s. The library's Meader Rare Books Room was named in honor of the Meaders' continued support of the University libraries.

Besides the couple's contributions to WMU, the Meaders in 2004 gave substantially to the University of Michigan and Kalamazoo-area organizations. They also were active in the local community as volunteers.

Mary Meader served on the boards of directors of the Upjohn Co., Kalamazoo Nature Center and Harold and Grace Upjohn Foundation.

A private family memorial service will be held for Meader at a later date.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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