Marie Prange Oetting, A.B. ’49,

Reunion Is Cornerstone of Alumna’s Exemplary Involvement

If by chance you don’t know Marie Prange Oetting well, and you get the opportunity to have a friendly conversation with her, take it. You’ll learn a lot about her. Not a detailed chronicle of her life and experiences, but what makes her the kind of person she is: what motivates her, what interests her, what matters to her, and why she continues to be one of Washington University’s most loyal and enthusiastic volunteers.

And, before your conversation ends, you’ll realize that she has learned many of the same kinds of things about you. Marie Oetting has a way of drawing people out, and she truly enjoys getting to know them.

Marie Dorothy Prange graduated in 1949 with an economics degree from Arts & Sciences. Also graduating that year, from the School of Law, was William J. Oetting, a childhood friend. Bill had served in World War II and came back to the University to finish his undergraduate and law degrees. Bill and Marie were married in 1950. With the exception of a recall to the Pentagon during the Korean conflict, Bill practiced law in St. Louis until his death in 1994. Marie worked in the research department of the Federal Reserve Bank (thanks to her economics background) and later taught third grade for a year before settling into the role of homemaker and community volunteer. By their fifth anniversary, Marie and Bill had two sons, David and James.

“We were the first postwar class,” she says, “and we were diverse in age and experience because of the returning World War II veterans. Washington University made such a wonderful difference in my life! It was not just the education, but the lifelong friends and associations.”

She works to keep those connections alive: perhaps that’s why she and classmate John (Jack) R. Barsanti, Jr., have co-chaired their class reunions every five years, from their 5th in 1954 through their 55th in 2004. She also enjoys meeting new people who share her ties to the University. Her role as the University’s overall Reunion chair for many years has provided her the opportunity to connect with members of all undergraduate Reunion classes, from the earliest to the latest, and to share her enthusiasm and encourage them to remain engaged with the University.

Oetting’s Reunion duties are only part of her résumé as a dedicated volunteer for Washington University. Over the years, she has been influential in both alumni programming and fundraising. “When I was chair of the Alumni Board of Governors [in 2001–2002], we had to make a presentation to the chancellor about how alumni programs could be improved. I had two ideas I wanted to offer,” she says.

“First, I was particularly interested in the alumni travel program. Bill and I had been on a number of trips, and when we had a professor along, the whole experience was so much better. We learned a lot more about the places we visited. So I asked the chancellor if we could have one of our wonderful faculty members accompany some of the groups.” The tours with knowledgeable professors are now a hallmark of the successful travel program, and Oetting continues to make her own journeys of learning. Most recently, she joined the contingent from Washington University who traveled to the 2007 International Advisory Council for Asia meeting in Bangkok, Thailand.

Marie Prange Oetting (left), A.B. ’49, visited with Bob Rumer, B.S.Ch.E. ’42, and his wife, Shirley, Arts & Sciences Class of 1945, during Reunion 2005.

“The other suggestion was Alumni College, which we now have on the Thursday before Reunion,” Oetting says. “Before we changed it, the alumni were getting 30-minute programs that didn’t offer much opportunity for real learning. I asked Chancellor Wrighton to look at all the people, especially older alumni, who were coming to Lifelong Learning Institute programs. They really want to keep learning.” Now, she says: “We have a magnificent program. Alumni have two course choices in the morning and two more in the afternoon. Our top professors are taking part, and about 200 alums and friends attended each half-day session this year. I think the staff members are working hard to offer meaningful experiences for our alumni.”

Marie Oetting has many deep ties to Washington University. Besides her husband and his parents, her son, Jim, was one of the School of Engineering’s first graduates in computer science in 1976. Add to that her circle of classmates, many other alumni in St. Louis, and a host of other members of the University community. It’s not surprising when she says, “Washington University has always been a big part of my life. I think there’s a family feeling here.”

As one administrator said, “Marie has answered whenever the University has called.” A prominent member of the University community, she is still a member of the Alumni Board of Governors, and she has served on the University Planned Giving Committee, the Endowed Scholarship Committee, the Dean’s Advisory Board for Arts & Sciences, and the Arts & Sciences Eliot Society Membership Committee, among others.

In the late ’70s, she was a member of the Student Life Task Force; she still focuses strongly on students and their University experiences. First with her husband and now on her own, she sponsors annual scholarships in Arts & Sciences. She endowed the William Julius and Marie Prange Oetting Scholarship in 2001. She is a Life Member of the William Greenleaf Eliot Society.

Predictably, Oetting takes a personal interest in the progress and welfare of the students who receive her scholarships. And they learn where she stands. “It’s important to educate students about the benefits of a long-term relationship with the University,” she says. “Strengthening Washington University ultimately increases the value of their degrees. The alumni who give back gain the most.”

Her lifelong career of volunteer service embraces many organizations in the St. Louis area. She has served on the boards of the Charless Home and Edgewood Children’s Home, and she recently retired from the friends board of the Missouri Historical Society. She has worked on behalf of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, the Care and Counseling Center, and her church. She is a member of the board of Eden Seminary and the friends committee of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

For her outstanding service to the University and her leadership in community organizations, she received the Distinguished Alumni Award at Founders Day in 1994. In 2001, Arts & Sciences also honored her with its Distinguished Alumni Award. Two years later, she was surprised to receive the Eliot Society’s “Search” Award. “I’m hardly a CEO. I think they just wanted to give it to an ordinary person to motivate others,” she says.

It’s plain to see that Marie Oetting doesn’t seek praise for her unstinting devotion to Washington University. But it’s evident she deserves the awards she’s received … and more.

—John W. Hansford