Mary Jane Wolbers, Leader in Liturgical and Sacred Dance, Has Passed

May 9, 2018

Mary Jane Wolbers, 95, of Temple, New Hampshire, passed away at her home on Saturday, April 14, 2018. She was born September 15, 1922, in Wilmington, Delaware, the daughter of John Donald Marr, Sr. and Marian Lee (Hodkin) Marr.

She is survived by her sons, Charles Paul Wolbers, Jr. and his wife, Donna Hoffman, of South Wayne, Wisconsin, and George Ernest Wolbers and his wife, Ellen Estes, of Matthews, North Carolina; her daughters, Marian Frances Wolbers and her husband, Bruce Dengler, of Reading, Pennsylvania, and Vivian Rose Wills and her husband, Robert, of Temple, NH; her nieces, Debbie Lou and Margaret Ann; her nephews, Don and John Charles; nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. Mary Jane was predeceased by her husband, Charles Paul Wolbers, Sr.; sister Ruth Elizabeth Marr; and her brother, John D. (Jack) Marr, Jr.

Mary Jane Wolbers was a professor emerita of the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance at East Stroudsburg University. She held a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of New Hampshire (1943) and a Master of Science degree in Dance from the University of Wisconsin (1949). She especially valued the creative influence and sound pedagogy of her mentor, Margaret H’Doubler, at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Her early dance training was with Kate McClafferty in Wilmington, DE (ballet, folk, creative) and Marion Rice in Fitchburg, MA (Denishawn, creative, ballroom). Her career goals took form in college courses and independent studies with Barbara Mettler, Jan Veen, Miriam Winslow and other New England artists during undergraduate years at the University of New Hampshire. Here, also, her life as a liturgical dancer flourished at the Community Church of Durham under the encouragement of the Rev. Emerson Hangen. She also studied with Fred Berk, Juana de Laban, Arthur Hall, Harold Kreutzberg, José Limón, Matteo, Charles Moore, Ralph Page, Pearl Primus, Maya Schade and Helen Tamiris. She served as a member of the Society of Spiritual Arts, founded by Ruth St. Denis, and the Martha Graham Dance Council.

Wolbers was a member of Orchesis, American Dance Guild, The International Association for Creative Dance, World Dance Alliance, Dance and the Child International, and the National Dance Association (an affiliate of AAHPERD), which presented her with the prestigious Heritage Award, in recognition of her lifelong contributions in dance and dance education. A founder and charter member of the Sacred Dance Guild, she was also a charter member of the American Dance Therapy Association. She was director of Physical Education and Dance at Vermont College and head of the Dance Department at West Virginia University. Before her tenure at East Stroudsburg University, she established the dance major curriculum at Jordan College of Butler University where she was Chairperson of the Dance Department.

As a liturgical dancer, teacher and choreographer, Mary Jane Wolbers combined her expertise as a mentor and performing artist with a deep conviction in the power of dance as a medium of religious expression. In 1960, she was featured speaker at the first Conference on Religion and the Dance, sponsored by the National Council of Churches, and later the Conference on Liturgical Spaces for the Arts, sponsored by the National Council of Catholic Men. She was a regular presenter at local, regional and national dance conferences, annual Sacred Dance Guild Festivals, and workshops. She directed five SDG Festivals, and served the committee on DSG Festival 2002, at which she was also a presenter.

While in London as presenter for the biennial conference of Dance and the Child International in 1988, Mrs. Wolbers visited sacred dance leaders, choirs and soloists there. Her three-year involvement serving a committee of five national dance leaders culminated in the Hong Kong International Dance Conference in 1990.

Wolbers taught and inspired East Stroudsburg University students from 1963 until her retirement in 1991 and was always a strong advocate of creatively-based programs in dance education. Her ultimate goal as an educator was to develop students who have positive self-image, integrated personalities, and the capacity for enjoying life to the fullest. Over her years of teaching, she brought numerous dancers and dance troupes of national stature to SUNY-New Paltz, where she taught creative dance, as well as ESU, including Ruth St. Denis, Pilobolus, Matteo, Arthur Hall and many others.

A scholarship for talented and academically strong students at East Stroudsburg University has been established in Mary Jane Wolbers’ name.

Giving online:
To make a one-time or recurring credit card gift through ESU’s secure online giving website,

To make a gift by phone or mail:
Please make checks payable to the “ESU Foundation” and include “Mary Jane Wolbers Endowed Scholarship” in the memo section of the check. Address: ESU Foundation, The Henry A. Ahnert, Jr. Alumni Center, 200 Prospect Street, East Stroudsburg, PA 18301. Tel. (570) 422-3333.