January 23, 1912 - February 7, 1998
Hilda-Barr Dixon (maiden name Wheeler) was born in River Forest, a suburb of Chicago, on January 23, 1912. She was the third daughter of Ferdinand C. and Nina Barr Wheeler. She enjoyed a peaceful childhood in a family that eventually included seven girls. In 1916, the family moved to New York City, as the firm for which Mr. Wheeler worked placed him in charge of shipping food to the military when the United States became involved in World War I.
During her childhood and early adolescence, Hilda-Barr spent the better part of her summer vacation organizing her sisters and interested neighborhood children in putting on amateur theatrical productions. With the assistance of her patient and understanding parents, the dining room served as the stage, and the back stairs and kitchen provided passageways from the dressing rooms upstairs. Mothers and older girls created the costumes for these shows, while fathers helped with stage props.
At six years of age, Hilda-Barr was enrolled at the Convent of the Sacred Heart - Maplehurst, located on University Avenue, which was just a few blocks from the family home. In 1922 she transferred to another Convent of Sacred Heart - Kenwood, just south of Albany, N.Y., joining her two older sisters there. When Hilda-Barr graduated, with one year of college credit in 1928, she had won every academic prize except one.
In the Fall of 1928, Hilda-Barr was admitted to Hunter College as a second semester sophomore, and earned her BA in 1930, which qualified her to teach English. Hilda-Barr's official teaching career began with her position at the Convent of the Sacred Heart at 54th Street and Madison Avenue in New York City. The supervisor of the young teachers, Mother Ellen Green, RSCJ, later described Hilda-Barr as "the best prepared teacher, with the broadest background, that I have ever supervised."
While holding this position, Hilda-Barr enrolled in the graduate school of Columbia University, where she earned an MA in English Literature. Much of the research for her Master's Thesis was done at Oxford University, England, during her summer vacation. After graduating, she accepted a teaching position at McDonough in Baltimore, one of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the country. Hilda-Barr also found time to make a series of cross-country automobile trips between 1936-1939, driving a second-hand car, and tenting across the United States during her vacation time.
Shortly thereafter, she met her future husband, Percival Vincent Dixon, or "Dick," and the couple set up house in New Brunswick, NJ. "Dick" worked for a pharmaceutical firm, and Hilda-Barr obtained a teaching position at Rutgers Preparatory School, but in the late 1940s retired temporarily to raise two sons, Wheeler Winston (born 1950) and Po (born 1951). Tragically, "Dick" died unexpectedly in 1954, leaving Hilda-Barr to raise her two sons alone. In 1957, she returned to teaching at Rutgers Preparatory School, teaching the 7th grade, and eventually was promoted to Principal of the school, a position she held until her retirement in 1981.
Shortly after retiring she was asked to become principal of Universal High, an alternative school for troubled children or those with learning disabilities. With her great love of children, her deep interest in education, and her great expertise in teaching, she was unable to resist the tremendous challenge, and became the head of school until her final retirement in 1986.
After leaving Universal High, Hilda-Barr moved to Washington state to live with her son, Po, who took care of her in her last years, where, despite progressive macular degeneration, she remained active in the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and the ACLU. She continued to be involved in community affairs at her new home in Washington until she suddenly and peacefully died on the morning of Saturday, February 7th, 1998. She is missed by all who knew and loved her, and her memory does not dim with the passing of years. Survived by Sisters Elaine and Jean-Marie Wheeler of the Daughters of Charity, and sons Wheeler and Po. -- Sr. Elaine Wheeler