Hilda N. Wilson, 95, co-owner of Towson electrical business

March 27, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Hilda N. Wilson, former co-owner of an electrical business who was known as Towson's unofficial mayor, died Thursday of apparent heart failure. She was 95 and had lived in Woodbrook before moving to the Edenwald retirement community in Towson in 1986.

Mrs. Wilson was a founder of the Towson Business Association in 1964 and became a strong advocate for the commercial area in the heart of the Baltimore County seat.

"She was always in charge," said former Baltimore County Executive Donald P. Hutchinson, who now heads the Greater Baltimore Committee, a business group. "She was a very dignified woman - strong-willed - who ran one of the two or three most stable businesses in Towson. Her lighting company was in a class of its own."

In the 1960s and 1970s - when newspaper stories referred to her as the unofficial mayor of Towson - Mrs. Wilson sensed that downtown Towson lacked community spirit. So she collared planning, engineering and zoning officials and lobbied them for street beautification projects and trees, more parking spaces and other amenities to revitalize the area.

"She was the matriarch of the town. She was definite in what she said and strong in her statements," said Frank Kaufmann, a neighbor and friend. "Anyone who wanted to know anything about Towson went to her. Every year, she rode in the July 4th parade in her patriotic hat and dress. She gloried in Towson."

In 1972, Mrs. Wilson founded the Towsontown Spring Festival, an annual event to promote the business district.

"She was instrumental in having the electrical wires buried along York Road," said Susan diLonardo, executive director of the Towson Business Association. "The fact her organization is still here and still strong is a tribute to her early vision."

"For years, things revolved around her," said Richard Parsons, retired Baltimore County librarian. "She had a great deal to say about Towson. People checked in with her to get her approval."

Hilda Nolte was born on a farm near the community of Boring in northwestern Baltimore County. She attended the two-room Fowblesburg Elementary School and was a graduate of Franklin High School in Reisterstown.

In a 1971 article in The Sun, she wrote of walking and riding a wagon and the Western Maryland Railway's milk train to go the seven miles from her farm to high school.

"The routine was pretty dismal," Mrs. Wilson wrote, "dark when we left home, dark when we got back, except in the late spring and early fall. ... Walking home alone in the dark was especially unpleasant for me."

In 1924, Mrs. Wilson graduated from the State Normal School, a teachers' college that is now Towson University, and taught in a one-room school near the farm. She taught all six grades and left the profession after the births of her children.

In 1944, she joined her husband, W. Raymond Wilson, in the family-owned Wilson Electric Co. on York Road near Chesapeake Avenue.

The couple had married in 1927. Mr. Wilson died in 1998.

As Wilson Electric's co-owner, secretary and treasurer, she developed a successful retail adjunct, selling light fixtures and lamp shades. The store became the largest seller of lamp shades in the mid-Atlantic region, said family members.

They recalled her buying trips to New York trade shows and her racing up and down the steps in the small store, often crowded with customers, as she selected a proper-fitting lamp shade.

As downtown Towson became densely crowded, Mrs. Wilson resisted offers to sell the store to developers. She continued doing business on York Road until 1982, when she sold the business and the 19th-century clapboard building that housed it. Towson Commons and a Border's bookstore now occupy the site where the building stood.

Funeral services for Mrs. Wilson will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, 15300 Dover Road, Reisterstown.

She is survived by three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A son, Theodore Raymond Wilson, died in 1970, and a daughter, Barbara Jean Kincaid, died in 1976.

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