Christiansen remembered as advocate

By JOANNE FOX
joannef@scdiocese.org

Marilyn Christiansen may be remembered for her love of music and as a patron of the arts, but she was also an advocate for the vulnerable, including the unborn, young mothers and youth suffering from addiction.

“Selfless, faith-filled, holy, generous and caring would be how I would describe Marilyn,” said Kristie Arlt, director of communications and development for the diocese.

Marilyn Grace Connors Christiansen, 82, of Dakota Dunes, S.D., died Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, at her home surrounded by her family.

Services were Jan. 24 at Sacred Heart Church, Sioux City, celebrated by Father Terry Roder. Burial was in Calvary Cemetery, under the direction of Meyer Brothers Colonial Chapel.

Marilyn was born June 29, 1935, in Sioux City, the daughter of William and Irene Connors. She grew up with her sister Beverly and brother Bill on the Connors family farm in Jefferson. She attended Jefferson High School where she met her high school sweetheart, Russell E. Christiansen. Marilyn attended the Minnesota School of Business in Minneapolis. Upon her graduation, she returned to South Dakota to marry Russ. They made their first home in Brookings, S.D., while Russ finished his engineering degree at South Dakota State.

Following graduation, they made their home in Sioux City. Marilyn briefly worked for the office of education for the Diocese of Sioux City, while Russ worked on his career in the utility industry.

In a 2006 Sioux City Journal article, Marilyn remembered when she found out about “the Dunes.”

“I was folding clothes just out of the dryer and Russ came in and said he had something important to talk to me about and I said, ‘Just let me finish folding the clothes,'” she recalled. “I had heard rumors about land being purchased, but nothing official.”

Days later, in 1988, Christiansen, then-president of Midwest Energy company, announced plans for Dakota Dunes, a corporate business and research park with an associated planned community in southern Union County in South Dakota.

“At first I couldn’t even imagine how this would all turn out. Russ was clearly the visionary in this, along with others,” Marilyn admitted. “We talked at length about the project in the beginning and we prayed about it.”

Marilyn and Russ moved to Des Moines, where they lived from 1990-97, while maintaining a home in Sioux City and then Dakota Dunes, where they retired in 1997. Russ died in 2000. Marilyn married Dr. Edward Wiltgen in 2006.

Arlt met Marilyn at the start of her fundraising career.

“I was working at Jackson Recovery Centers (a Sioux City addiction treatment center) and had an idea to start a program to support the women and children who were suffering from substance abuse,” she recalled. “With Marilyn’s and Ginny Peterson’s (wife of former IBP Chairman Bob Peterson) help, a women’s auxiliary was formed.”

Arlt recalled Christiansen and Peterson provided tremendous leadership by recruiting other women from Siouxland to donate their time, talent and treasure.

“All of those involved were very hands on, especially Marilyn,” she said. “She would stop by the Women and Children’s Center to talk to the women, hold and feed babies and simply offer a warm smile and a cup of coffee to the women working on putting their lives back together.”

Arlt added, “Of course, Marilyn was always financially generous, which was a blessing, but the kindness she offered was amazing.”

Marilyn was a woman of faith and a champion of Catholic needs, Arlt pointed out.

“Jackson Recovery Centers was very close to her heart, but so was Bishop Heelan Schools, Sacred Heart Parish, the Bishop’s Dinner for Catholic Education, the Bishop’s Circle and many, many more entities,” she said.

Marilyn is survived by her husband, Ed Wiltgen; her children, Lori Christiansen, Lynn (Mike) Lanning, Lisa (Randy) Ramlo and Russ (Melanie) Christiansen; her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In addition to her husband, Russ, she was preceded in death by her parents; an infant son, Ryan; her brother and sister.

In lieu of flowers, memorials to her life may be made to Jackson Recovery Women and Children’s Center, Briar Cliff University (to support music and arts programs), Bishop Heelan High School (to support music, theater and art programs), and the June Nylen Cancer Center (to support the purchase of new equipment and technology).

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