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On their honeymoon, Stanley Hollander told his new wife, Selma, that she would never have to work. So when he landed a job at Michigan State University and the couple arrived in East Lansing in 1958, she needed something to fill her time. She signed up for a millinery class at Michigan State University, because she enjoyed making — and wearing — her own hats.
Selma Hollander has little trouble filling her time these days. On the verge of turning 100 later this month, she is as busy as ever, attending recitals and theater performances, enjoying the company of her many friends and making art. For decades, Selma and Stanley Hollander were Lansing’s alpha patrons of the arts, supporting the local arts scene — especially at MSU — with both their finances and their attendance. Their names are attached to endowed chairs, scholarships, galleries and programs all over the sprawling university.
“I’m sure I’ve spent more time on campus than any student,” she told a packed Cowles House Sunday afternoon at a celebration of her upcoming June 18 birthday.
The historic MSU house was crammed with friends, artists, university dignitaries and other well-wishers. Stanley Hollander died in 2004, but Selma Hollander has continued her rigorous schedule of philanthropic and cultural outings. While much of the Hollanders’ giving has been university-focused — the couple received the MSU Alumni Association’s Philanthropist of the Year Award in 2002, commemorating their first $1 million in contributions to MSU — their generosity also extended to the local theater scene and groups like the Lansing Symphony Orchestra.
Kirk Domer, chair of MSU’s Department of Theatre, was in attendance Sunday as both a representative of his department and a friend of Hollander. He noted the value of donors like Hollander who also give their time to the programs they support.
“It’s great to have a patron who loves the arts, but what makes Selma special is that she spends time with our students,” he said. “She infects them with her passion and generosity.”
James Forger, dean of the College of Music, served as the party’s emcee and even picked up his saxophone as part of an all-star music faculty tribute to the near-centenarian.
“She symbolizes what it means to be alive,” Forger said. “She embraces all the arts she attends, she supports, she applauds.”
And while she attended a wide variety of events, Forger noted that she didn’t love everything. But she always tried to get something out of it.
“Selma has a distinct and highly valued opinion,” he said. “She might say, ‘I didn’t care for that, but it was important that I was there.’”
At Sunday’s party, Hollander, crowned with a floral hat, sat in a cozy upholstered chair and greeted a steady parade of guests that was only briefly interrupted so that MSU officials — including President Lou Anna K. Simon, who was traveling in Europe, via video — could offer birthday congratulations and gifts. One gift, a bowl from the MSU Shadows collection, was made from a felled
tree on the MSU Campus.
“We hope to fell some more trees soon,” Forger said, gesturing toward a nearby field adjacent to the Music Building.
Hollander has pledged $1 million toward a proposed addition and expansion to the building, matching the gift she made to the Broad Art Museum.
Hollander herself addressed the crowd, telling a little bit of the story of her journey from Brooklyn to East Lansing.
“I never miss New York,” she told the crowd, her Brooklyn accent untouched by decades of Midwestern life.
She recalled her time living with her husband in a small apartment near the corner of Bailey Street and Grand River Avenue, just a stone’s throw from the university. While she started with millinery classes, she ended up with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in studio art at MSU. Still an active artist, Hollander has an exhibition of her screen prints slated for later this summer at the Lansing Art Gallery.
Domer accompanied Hollander on a recent trip to get art supplies. While she uses a cane to get around, Domer said her energy and passion have continued unabated.
“We spent six hours, but it wasn’t about shopping. It was her talking about all the things she wants to do,” he said. “At five hours in, she turned to me and said, ‘I need charcoal! I’m going to make something new for the Lansing Art Gallery.’” Domer, who is exactly 60 years her junior — “Selma’s my birthday buddy”— said he is inspired by her approach to life and art.
“She’s so giddy about creating,” he said.
“Selma Hollander: The Collected
Works” June 29-July 2 FREE Lansing Art Gallery 119 N. Washington Square, Lansing (517) 374-6400, lansingartgallery.org