According to Judge Marilyn Wilder's own testimony, her selection as one of the 2018 Newton Women of the Year is unbelievable.
"I was completely floored when I got the call that I had been chosen. I wasn't aware that my name had been submitted and actually just never thought I would be chosen. I was amazed," Wilder said. "I'm very honored and it's very humbling because I, personally, don't think I've done anything that merits special recognition. I think there are other people who should be given the award, but I appreciate it greatly and am thankful to the people who nominated me."
Those people who nominated her would have plenty to say about Wilder's claims, as they see her as a "quiet warrior" for the community who views her service simply as the right thing to do — with a body of work that is more than deserving of this year's distinction.
Even before Wilder was appointed to serve as the first female judge in the ninth district court (serving Harvey and McPherson counties) of Kansas two years ago, she built up an impressive body of work practicing law in Newton since she and her husband moved to city in 1990.
While Wilder's firm took on a variety of cases, Wilder was quick to volunteer her legal assistance to many causes — like certain businesses being established for the good of the community.
"Not long after we moved here, there was a group that wanted to try to put together a health clinic for low-income people. That eventually became Health Ministries, but I did the legal work to try to get that organization started and then I was on the board for a number of years," Wilder said.
To a lesser extent, Wilder also helped getting the Heartland Pregnancy Crisis Center and Heart-to-Heart Child Advocacy Center set up and served on their respective boards — and numerous others around the community — for a time as well.
Being a judge has modified how Wilder can have an impact on the community, noting those duties prevent her from assisting organizations in legal matters and being involved in fundraising efforts, but she is still dedicated to being an advocate in areas of need that she sees around the community — like in her courtroom, where she has noticed a number of people with undiagnosed or untreated mental illness.
"We have a big hole in the state of Kansas for mental health services and so I try to tell people about that as much as possible so that hopefully we can somehow effect some change and get mental health services working well again in the state of Kansas," Wilder said.
Taking up the gavel, Wilder admitted, was not something she initially sought out. However, on the suggestion of former District Judge Richard Walker, she applied for the vacancy that came from Judge Carl B. Anderson's retirement.
While Wilder did not get that appointment, she was driven to pursue this new path of service in the community and jumped at the opportunity when it presented itself again.
"After having tried for that and not getting it, then, that really put a fire in me to try again when Judge Walker announced his retirement," Wilder said. "I am passionate about the law and justice and I care about people, and decided I would try something new."
Despite the heavy case load that comes with that position, Wilder continues to find a way to do more even outside the court system — whether serving on the Newton Medical Center board of directors or staying involved in her church (as an elder, piano player, etc.).
Noting she is intent on living up to the honor of being selected as one of the Newton Women of the Year, Wilder's nominees said that shouldn't be hard — as that's just the type of person she is.
"I have always just tried to do good work in the area that I was (in) and to lend help to agencies or organizations where I could and didn't necessarily think about the bigger picture," Wilder said, "just trying to do my part, I guess, to help our community."
Wilder and the other Newton Women of the Year honorees (Jennifer Vogts and Pam Stevens) will be recognized at a ceremony on April 14 at the Meridian Center.