Let’s make it official
Ready to become a Lynx? We are still accepting applications, but housing and class registration are first-come, first-served.
NewsMay 9, 2023

Missing and honoring Jim Wilbur

Saturday-morning remembrance ceremony highlights the love, laughter and guidance of late, longtime Threshold Program leader

By John Sullivan

The late, longtime executive director of our Threshold Program, Jim Wilbur, was a remarkable man with many friends. Nearly 200 of them gathered Saturday afternoon in the amphitheater of University Hall for an hourlong remembrance program, honoring Wilbur’s personal and professional gifts.

Before the program began, the room was filled with the joyful murmur of colleagues catching up and the occasional boisterous greeting among alumni of Threshold, our certificate program for neurodiverse college-age learners.

Hugs were abundant, as was the buzz of excitement for both the remembrance and, still to come later in the evening, a Threshold gala and dance to usher the innovative education- and life-skills program into its fifth decade.

“I want to thank you for being here today to celebrate Jim Wilbur, who left us far, far too soon in September of 2020,” said university President Janet L. Steinmayer, a friend of Wilbur, as well as a parent of a Threshold alumnus.

Janet L. Steinmayer chats and laughs during Jim Wilbur event
President Janet L. Steinmayer catches up with friends at the remembrance event for the late Threshold Program executive director Jim Wilbur. (Photos and video by Ben Zackin)

“My poor son is going to be talked about today,” Steinmayer said, to explosive laughter from the capacity crowd, before relating that, as she brought her son, Ben, to Threshold, she found herself grilled by Wilbur.

“I had my first and perhaps most in-depth interview at Lesley University,” she said.  While Wilbur sized her up as a parent ready to support her son’s educational journey, Steinmayer noticed his office’s unusual décor including, in the fireplace, “Jim had an actual car fender.”

“Also, in Jim’s office, and spilling into the lobby, I remember pictures” of every Threshold student, past and present, which convinced Steinmayer that she was leaving Ben in good hands.

“I remember Jim understanding everybody’s story, and his joy at their successes was palpable,” she said, adding that Wilbur often ribbed her son for his ambition to one day own and drive a Ford Crown Victoria, a gas-guzzling sedan seldom coveted by 20-year-olds.

Wilbur didn’t found Threshold, but the program expanded under his leadership and added the first-of-its kind Maren K. Hitz Alumni Center.

“He recognized the need to support Threshold alumni through their lifetimes,” she said of Wilbur.  “We have him to thank for that vision.”

Steinmayer recalled Wilbur’s broad, natural smile, his hearty laugh and his down-to-earth manner.

“He was more than approachable,” she said. “He invited you in and asked only that you be you.”

A brief onset of tears threatened to occlude the president’s speaking voice as she recalled, at Wilbur’s retirement party in 2016 when, at one point, a multitude of Threshold students and alumni broke out into a spontaneous chant of “Jim, Jim, Jim” and stormed the dance floor to be near him.

“It looked like the Beatles in the early years,” Steinmayer said. “They just danced around him in joyful celebration.”

The esteem in which Wilbur was held was evident in the recollections of a pair of Threshold alumni who spoke next.

Threshold alumni embrace
Hugs were abundant at the remembrance event for Jim Wilbur.

Brandon Mager ’11 discussed Wilbur’s warmth and helpfulness, and said the late director reminded him that he had a family in Threshold.

“Because of you, we are all chasing our dreams,” he said. “I always knew you’d pick me up when I was down.”

Det Newton ’10 shared some humorous memories.

“I met Jim when I was an 18-year-old. An obnoxious 18-year-old,” he said, recalling the time, a year later, when he was busted drinking beer in his room while watching the New England Patriots playing the New York Giants. He didn’t disclose the discipline he faced but, when it was over, he said Wilbur, in a jocular manner, expressed his disappointment.

With a smile, Wilbur told him, “Really? Bud LIGHT?”

Newton asked, unsuccessfully, if he could have his beer back.

The two remained friends and, one night when Wilbur joined Newton and his wife for dinner, the two men simultaneously bent down to retrieve a dropped napkin. As Newton recalls, Wilbur said to him, “Jesus, Detwiler: you’re really balding!”

Newton revealed that if he and his wife have a son, they will give him the middle name James.

“I desperately miss him every day.”

Packed UHall Amphiteater for the Jim Wilbur remembrance
As Lesley Board of Trustees member Juanita James said at the remembrance event, the University Hall amphitheater was "packed to the gills" to honor the late Jim Wilbur.

Lesley Board of Trustees member Juanita James, also a parent of a Threshold alumnus, said Wilbur treated Threshold students as if they were his own children, staying with them in the hospital, and staying in touch after they graduated from the program.

One of her memories involved her son, Dudley Williams III ’10, and the calamity of 2013, when terrorists set off homemade bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Williams had been there with a friend but had walked two blocks away to grab lunch when the bombs went off.

The two youths were OK, escaping the death and injuries that befell many others at the iconic race that day.

“The first person he called was me,” James said. “The second person he called was Jim.”

The story is further proof of how much a part of the life of her son, and the lives of all Threshold students, Wilbur had become.

“He loved his students; he loved his children. He loved them the way a parent has unwavering love for their family.”

Following James’s remarks, Wilbur’s nephew Kirk Wilbur explained that, while his uncle had no children of his own, “His greatest child was the Threshold program.”

The remembrance program concluded with a heartfelt rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” sung by Threshold alumnus Daniel Levin ’06, the beloved melancholy-yet-hopeful standard, fittingly summing up the morning program.

“We love you; we’ll always remember you,” Mager said. “Just know your legacy lives on in all of us.”