Theatre and Dance department's namesake Maggie Allesee made profound impact at Wayne State and beyond

Wayne State University mourns the passing of Margaret "Maggie" Allesee, M.Ed. '84, D.H.L. '02, the namesake of the Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance. In addition to her years of support for Wayne State, Maggie donated millions to causes she cared about throughout her lifetime-a remarkable portfolio of giving and community involvement that garnered national honors.

Maggie Allesee
Maggie Allesee

"Maggie Allesee was extraordinarily generous with her personal wealth and her time, at Wayne State as well as throughout Michigan and nationally," Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson said. "Although her impact will continue through gifts that increased the reach and impact of the arts, we will miss our friend and her infectious smile."

Inspired by dance, a path to philanthropy

Maggie was a seminal arts philanthropist at Wayne State and the university's most devoted advocate for the study and performance of dance, a passion that began at age 6 when she wanted to be a ballerina. She and her late husband Bob Allesee gave more than $4 million to Wayne State, including a $2 million endowment established in 2000 to support the dance department in the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts (CFPCA). The college named the department in her honor, which later became the Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance when dance and theatre merged. It was the first department at Wayne State to bear an individual's name.

"The arts never pay for themselves,'' said Maggie when she established the endowment, which enables Wayne State to attract dancers of national and international stature as visitors and artists in residence. An inspirational volunteer and community leader, Maggie championed every major dance initiative at Wayne State, and she invested in the excellence of the department's performances, which included the prestigious American College Dance Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. She and Bob, who passed away in 2020, rarely missed a show.

In 2002, the Allesees gave $1.5 million to create the Bob Allesee (Allison) Endowed Chair in Media in CFPCA, which brings internationally acclaimed media professionals to campus to work with Wayne State students. The endowed chair honors the career of Maggie's husband - a Michigan radio and television veteran who worked under the broadcasting name Bob Allison and hosted the popular Bowling for Dollars TV show in the 1970s and 1980s.

The couple supported many other programs and projects at CFPCA and Wayne State as well, including the theatre program, the Allesee Dance Theatre, the Hilberry Gateway Performance Complex, and the Michigan Dance Archives at the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs. In 2011, Maggie and her daughters, Kathy Cooke and Shirley Shirock, established the Rose Marie Floyd Endowed Fund in Support of Ballet with a gift of $100,000. Years earlier, when her daughters were young, the three took dance lessons together in Floyd's studio. Kathy and Shirley both went on to professional careers in dance.

Maggie inherited her wealth from her first husband, the late Howard Acheson Jr., who ran Acheson Industries, an international chemical company. She inspired giving in all her children, who follow her path in philanthropy and volunteerism. Her son, Michael Acheson, has received community leadership awards for his advocacy with Math Corps and many other Wayne State and community programs.

Nationally renowned devotion to giving and service

Maggie was born in 1928 in St. Petersburg, Florida, and earned her undergraduate degree in English and journalism in 1949 from Florida State University, where she lettered in cheerleading. She worked as a journalist and a teacher, earning her master's degree in education and counseling from Wayne State in 1984 and a certificate in gerontology from Wayne State in 1986. She received an honorary doctorate of arts degree from Ferris State University in 2014, honorary doctorates from Oakland University in 2011 and Florida State University in 2013.

In addition to her giving and volunteer efforts at Wayne State, Maggie also provided support and service to dance, arts and community wellness programs in Detroit, in Michigan and nationally. Maggie's service included her roles as a founding board member of the Metropolitan Ballet Theatre, a trustee and board member of the Detroit Opera, a co-founder of the Detroit Metropolitan Dance Project, and a member of the Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors for the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum. In 2004, she created and endowed the renowned Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography at Florida State with a $1.5 million gift.

Detroit and Michigan's tireless patron

The Allesees gave more than $2 million to the Detroit Opera, which included $1 million to fund the Allesee Dance and Opera Resource Library. In 2011, they established the Robert A. and Maggie Allesee Rehearsal Hall at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with a $1 million gift. Cranbrook, the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center and the Detroit Institute of Arts are among the many additional local and state arts organizations that benefited from their generosity.

Maggie and Bob Allesee
Maggie and Bob Allesee

Maggie also cared deeply for the elderly and for people suffering from serious illnesses. For her service and her generosity to Hospice of Michigan, she was named a National Heroine of Hospice by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Her $3 million gift to Hospice of Michigan created the endowed Maggie Allesee Center for Quality of Life - a hub for research and education that cares for those who are severely ill. To promote nursing care for the elderly, in 1999 she created the Maggie Allesee Chair in Geriatric and Rehabilitation Nursing at the Oakland University School of Nursing with a $1 million endowment.

Maggie's many other honors include the Max M. Fisher Award for Outstanding Philanthropy from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Detroit Chapter (2000), the President's Award from the National Dance Education Organization (2004), the Heart of Gold Award from the United Way (1989), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Michigan Dance Council (2004), Michiganian of the Year from The Detroit News (2006), Detroiter of the Year from Hour Detroit (2010) and the Special Recognition Award from the ArtServe Michigan Board of Directors (2003).

Back to listing