RUSHVILLE - Nancy "Virginia" Zwickel Willkie, 89, (daughter-in-law of 1940 Republican presidential nominee Wendell L. Willkie), died April 15, 2017, in Indianapolis. She was born in Anderson, Indiana, on June 10, 1927, the daughter of Wilbur C. and Nelle (Daniels) Zwickel, and grew up in Connersville, where her pharmacist father was the proprietor of Economy Drug Store for five decades.
Mrs. Willkie was proud to have attended Maplewood School and to be a 1945 Connersville High School graduate. After earning a B.A. in Sociology from DePauw University in 1949, where she was a member of Delta Delta Delta sorority. She taught one year in the Connersville School System before postgraduate work at Indiana State University and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
In 1951, she married Richard Adamson of Terre Haute and lived on the far eastside of Indianapolis. She later moved to Knightstown, where she lived from 1963 to 1965 with her daughter, Laura, and taught first grade at the Central School in Henry County. In 1965, she married Philip H. Willkie of Rushville and moved to Posey Township, Rush County. She later settling in Rushville, where she restored and lived in an 1876 Italianate house that, along with the historic Durbin Hotel, served as Wendell L. Willkie's 1940 presidential campaign headquarters.
Mrs. Willkie's extensive civic and volunteer activities included teaching adult reading at the Rushville Public Library, and serving on the Advisory Cabinet of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site and on the Board of Rush County Heritage. She also was a member of Athenaeum Turners, Athenaeum Foundation, the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, the Indiana German Heritage Society (charter member), the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Columbia Club, and the Rush County Historical Society, as well as a member of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. She was an avid fan of Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio, especially, "A Prairie Home Companion," and an early supporter of WFYI in Indianapolis.
Mrs. Willkie enjoyed time with family and friends, reading, museums, antiques, historic preservation, and national and international travel, which included visiting Babstadt, Wuerttemberg, Germany, the ancestral village of the Zwickels. She was a formidable but good-natured competitor at Scrabble and croquet, once saying, "I don't mind winning against my children, just not by very much." She regularly rode her bicycle to morning coffee with friends at various Rushville locales, and in later life became known and appreciated for wearing a variety of stylish hats and scarves.
Mrs. Willkie was also known for a rapier-like wit, wielded with gentle good humor that left a listener with a smile and a "Virginia quip" to be regularly re-quoted over the years. She never lost the ability to laugh at herself; asked just days before her passing why she was in an adult living facility, she replied "I'm here because I'm not all there." She was also a life-long learner who cared about proper speech and proper conduct. She was not reticent about encouraging better grammar, and it was said Rush County men reflexively stood a bit straighter in her presence.
In recent years, Mrs. Willkie celebrated her birthday with family and friends at the annual "Wicket World of Croquet" at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. On winning the tournament with her son David in 2006, she observed, "I never imagined being lauded for my athletic achievements on my 79th birthday." The champion's cup was renamed in her honor.
She is survived by her daughter, Laura Adamson Selm (William) of Indianapolis; son, Benjamin J. Willkie, Captain USN (Veronica) of Hawaii; son, David W. Willkie of Indianapolis; and three stepsons, Wendell L. Willkie II (Carlotta) of Connecticut, and Philip H. Willkie and Frank P. Willkie of Minnesota. She also is survived by her only sibling, Margaret Walker (Richard) of Madison, Wisconsin; and six grandchildren, Nicholas, Karl, Emma, and Alice Selm; and Nathan and Arlinda Willkie.
Her parents and spouses preceded her in death.
Calling for Mrs. Willkie will be Wednesday, April 19, 2017, from 4 until 8 p.m. at Moster Mortuary. Funeral service will be Thursday, April 20, 2017, at 10 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church. Burial immediately following in East Hill Cemetery. All services will be in Rushville, Ind. In lieu of flowers, please make donations either to the Heart of Rushville or the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site.
The family would like to thank Marquette Health Center and Indy Pilates in Indianapolis for providing over five years of wonderful care.
Published on April 17, 2017