Alumna and longtime University friend Marilyn Warrens passed away Friday, January 10. She was 95.
Born December 5, 1924, in Yoakum, Texas, she attended several colleges after graduating from high school, including University of Texas, Trinity University, and San Francisco State, and also worked as an agent for American Airlines. When Warrens and her husband moved to Chico in 1961, she began to immerse herself in the community while raising her family and participating in local children’s theatre. Her life would come to be characterized by her steadfast dedication to civic and community service, which included a significant and lasting connection to Chico State.
“Marilyn Warrens was a visionary whose generous heart touched all of us in the community whether we realized it or not,” said President Gayle Hutchinson. “I loved talking with Marilyn. She greeted everyone with the warmest of smiles and a twinkle in her eye. Her kindness, humility, and stories of adventure always captured our attention. A successful businesswoman in her own right, Marilyn never lost sight of the importance of community engagement. Her contributions to Chico State have been transformative and her memory everlasting. I miss her deeply but am honored to have known her.”
Warrens’ first connections with the University were in 1966 and 1967, when she produced and directed two plays performed at Laxson Auditorium. They was only the start of her decades-long involvement in the University’s art and drama communities. In the years that followed, Warrens also enrolled as a student, completing her bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 1975. She studied for two years toward a master’s degree in the School of Communications before opening an import clothing boutique and a public relations business, both of which she operated until 1989.
Meanwhile, she shared her talents in projects that embraced the arts, historic preservation, community, and education. One of her early endeavors was to chair the Laxson Auditorium refurbishing project, which raised more than $100,000 in the 1970s to turn the venue into a world-class auditorium. She is also responsible for refurbishing the President’s Mansion when it was no longer used as a presidential residence. The historic structure designed by renowned California architect Julia Morgan today is known as the Albert E. Warrens Center, in memory of Warrens’ husband, and utilized for special campus events.
As her role with the University deepened, Warrens served as chair and board member for the University Foundation, and chair and member of the University Advisory Board. She endowed the Harlan Adams Scholarship in the Department of Theatre Arts in 1974 and annually supported the University’s Court Theatre summer program, Bach Festival, and North State Symphony. She led the 30th anniversary committee for Court Theater in 1996. Two years later, she established the Marilyn Warrens Musical Theater Scholarship and provided underwriting for three operettas over a six-year period. And in 2012, she was an honorary co-chair of the University’s 125th Anniversary celebration.
“Marilyn Warrens was a phenomenal woman who, as a returning student in her 40s, obtained her Chico State bachelor’s degree in children’s theater, later received an honorary doctorate in the humanities, ran a retail business, was a PR professional, championed and saw to fruition the rose garden at the CARD Center, and so much more,” said Advancement Director Daria Booth. “She was also my friend, and I will forever treasure our coffee chats, breakfasts at the club, and how she always made me feel special, strong, and loved.”
In 1999, the College of Humanities and Fine Arts honored Warrens as its Distinguished Alumna, a celebration of her success, philanthropy, and dedicated service. The CSU Board of Trustees and University followed suit in 2008, awarding her an honorary doctorate of fine arts—one of the system’s highest honors. When she accepted her degree, she told the students in the crowd, “My wish for you: make art a part of your life, stay healthy, share your talents to the fullest, and don’t forget Chico.”
In addition to her support of her alma mater, Warrens had a long history of involvement in the greater community. She was a founding board member of both the Chico City Light Opera and Chico Museum Association, creator of Fiesta Rancho Chico and Las Senoras, and the mastermind behind the Decorator’s Dream House for the Butte Glenn Medical Alliance. She also organized the Bicentennial Fourth of July fireworks display and “Operation Poppy,” which seeded the hills of the Oroville Dam with the state flower.
“Marilyn was a hard worker but giving to her community was always in her soul,” said Marsha Martin, who served with Warrens on PEO, an international women’s philanthropic organization. “She was a visionary—and someone who took those visions and implemented them.”
Martin and her husband, University Foundation Board Member Tom Martin (Agriculture, ’66) have known Warrens for more than 30 years, and she fondly remembers her friend for her determination, vision, leadership, generosity, and grace. When Bidwell Mansion faced a reduction in operating hours after Warrens’ 90th birthday, she came up with an idea to sell puzzles as a fundraiser. She had them designed, ordered, and delivered them to be sold. Another time, when PEO needed funds for a new scholarship, she designed a suncatcher that was sold to chapters across the nation.
Among many other remarkable qualities, Warrens was a wonderful storyteller, Martin said. At one of the recent University Foundation dinners, they sat together and she listened to Warrens tell students at their table about her life, how important her education was to her, and how deeply she cared about giving to Chico State and the community.
“She was a lifelong learner, all things big and small. She was curious and generally interested in people. And she loved the University,” Martin said. “I know I am a better person because of her and she has taught me the importance of how to put the community first and help others in my life. There are so many more who can say the same.”
Throughout her life, Warrens continued to be recognized for her dedication. Among her awards were the Excellence in Community Service Award by the Chico Economic Planning Corporation; the Pat Lappin Award for Community Service by the Chamber of Commerce; the Rotary Club of Chico’s coveted Community Service Award; and the Mayor’s Arts Award.
Warrens is survived by her sons Wade and Grant, daughters-in-law Joanna and Rieko, grandchildren Victor, Elliot, and Natalie, and brother Herb Wade. The family is having a private burial but looks forward to a celebration of Warrens’ life this spring at the Chico Area Recreation and Park District Center when the roses she loved so dearly return to bloom. We will share those details when they are finalized.
The University flag will be lowered Wednesday, January 22, in her memory.