Remembering Selma Hollander

A major patron and supporter of the College of Music, a friend to many, and a lively presence in Fairchild Theatre, Cook Recital Hall, at musicology lectures and throughout the community has passed away.

Selma Hollander, almost always seen in a colorful hat, enjoys a birthday celebration with MSU friends in 2012.
Selma and her husband, the late Stanley Hollander, established seven endowments in the college and provided a lead gift of $1M for the renovation of 120 Music Building principally for choral, opera, student recitals, and large classroom use.
More than a patron, Selma Hollander became personal friends with so many in the MSU community, including College of Music Senior Director of Development Rebecca Surian and Dean Jim Forger.
On the occasion of Selma's 100th birthday, Cowles House was filled with those wishing to celebrate with her, including long time friends and College of Music National Leadership Council members Sandy and Ken Beall.

Free concert honoring the life of Selma Hollander. Details here.


After a glorious and meaningful life, Selma Hollander passed peacefully into our memories on August 14th at the age of 101 after laughing and reflecting in her final days with some of her closest friends.

Selma was a gifted woman born in Brooklyn, New York, in June 1917, with a fierce independence extraordinary in her time.  She built her own career in the U.S. Postal Service and did not contemplate getting married….that is until she met Stanley Hollander on a golf course in the fall of 1956.  After a brief courtship, in which Stanley drove from Philadelphia every weekend to see Selma, they married during winter break of 1956.  In January, 1958, Stanley accepted a faculty appointment with the MSU College of Business, coming from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.  They quickly discovered they had found their home.

Stanley became a distinguished professor of marketing at MSU, as well as a renowned author and lecturer on retailing, shaping the professional lives of many key contributors in the field to this day. Selma helped entertain the students and always accompanied him on his lecture tours.  Together they traveled the world. Selma earned her BA degree from MSU in 1962 and a Master of Fine Arts in 1965. She taught art, and in her own words was a “colorist” whose exhibits in many art forms were largely attended. Her two most recent exhibits took place after her 100th birthday, one at the Lansing Art Gallery and one at Wharton Center.  Wharton Center is planning one final exhibition on a date to be determined.

Philanthropy was a major part of Stanley and Selma’s life. She was a major contributor to the Greater Lansing Jewish Welfare Federation and many cultural causes throughout the Lansing area. But their first love was MSU, for which Selma and Stanley Hollander were recognized with the MSU Alumni Association’s Philanthropist of the Year Award in 2002. The Hollanders were patrons of all the arts at MSU and in the broader community, including Lansing Symphony, Opera Company of Mid-Michigan, and Williamston Theatre to name a few.  Selma frequently said, “If you enjoy the arts and take tickets, you should make a gift in support of what you like.”  Throughout their lives, they generously supported the Broad College of Business, the College of Music, Wharton Center, the Broad Art Museum, the MSU Libraries and the College of Arts and Letters (including the Department of Theatre), among other units. In December, 2015, Selma was recognized as a member of the Clifton R. Wharton Society of donors at MSU.  One of Selma’s proudest moments arrived when she received the College of Arts and Letters Distinguished Alumni Award and gave the 2012 commencement address to the undergraduate student body.

“Selma Hollander was wonderful personal friend, a great friend to the College of Music, to the arts throughout our region and to Michigan State University. Her support for the College of Music will be long remembered through endowments she and her spouse, the late Stanley Hollander, created in support of students in flute, cello, piano, chamber music, voice, violin, and musicology," said College of Music Dean James Forger. "Her generosity in supporting the Music Pavilion project with a $1M gift was a major boost to our fundraising efforts. We will ever be proud to recognize and honor Selma and Stanley through their naming of the Selma and Stanley Hollander Rehearsal and Performance Hall for Vocal Arts and Student Performances.”

Selma faced death with gratitude for the great life she had lived. Her friends loved her and are better for having known her.  Undoubtedly, the community will continue to look for her in one of her distinctive hats and outfits at cultural events in town for years to come.

Private interment will be in New York next to Stanley.  A celebration of Selma Hollander’s life will occur on the campus of MSU at a later date.  Because of Selma’s love of the arts and diverse interests, those wishing to make a gift in her memory are encouraged to select a program of their particular interest at MSU or in the greater mid-Michigan arts community.

Selma Hollander in 2017 with MSU Vocal Arts students whose work she enthusiastically supported with a $1M gift to the new Music Pavilion and renovation project.

More on the life of Selma Hollander

As recently as June of 2018, on her 101st birthday, Selma Hollander was all smiles as usual when celebrating with friends.
Playful and fun with a zest for life, Selma Hollander was always game to wear an interesting hat.
On her 85th birthday in 2002, a rare glimpse of Selma Hollander without one of the hats she was so well known for wearing.

Selma Hollander had a happy childhood. She was born June 16, 1917 into a loving middle class family which eventually included a much younger brother and sister. The family owned a three story house in Brooklyn, NY and lived in the first two floors and rented out the third floor apartment. Her father was a postal mail carrier and her mother was a milliner. Although their means were modest, Selma grew up in comfort and warmth.

Experiences in her childhood hint at the person that we have come to know and love. Her father played the banjo and tried to interest her in the instrument without success. The third floor neighbor loved opera which drifted from his open windows in the summer. Her mother made a hat for every one of her outfits and taught her to knit and crochet. She took tap dancing lessons as an early teen and would sit with her cousin drawing landscapes in Prospect Park after visiting the Brooklyn Museum. She also attended performances at the Brooklyn Music Academy with her cousin.

Selma, at 16 1/2, wanted to attend Savage Junior College with a major in physical education, but her parents persuaded her that a business education major at NYU was more practical. She hated it and left after two years to train at the Burroughs Corporation School on billing equipment. This led to four years of running billing machines for two companies. During this period she passed the Civil Service Exam and eventually accepted a position with the Postal Service starting on the night shift boxing mail. In a year she became secretary to the Brooklyn Post Master, a position she held for 16 years until she married Stan Hollander and moved to Philadelphia.

While she happily lived with her parents for 39 years in Brooklyn, she was adventuresome in other ways. Two women in particular caught her eye early in her working career and strangely influenced the course of her life. The first was Sonja Henie, the famous Norwegian figure skater. Inspired by her Olympic success, Selma bought a pair of Sonja Henie boots and runners costing $90 at the time and skated at Madison Square Garden during her 20s and 30s. Further, she took annual winter vacations at Grossinger’s Catskill Resort which had an indoor skating rink.

The second was Babe Didrikson, the famous woman professional golfer. Had she not admired Babe Didrikson, she would not have met Stan. Inspired by Babe’s achievements in a man’s world, Selma bought a set of her signature clubs and learned the game by taking the train to the public course in Forest Hills, Long Island as frequently as she could. From then on, she took an annual summer vacation to the Tamiment Resort in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. Selma had become an accomplished golfer and would go to the clubhouse and wait for the pro to pair her with a willing party.

One fateful day in mid-September 1956, the resort pro paired her with two men, one being Stan Hollander. Stan was traveling from the University of Minnesota to the Wharton School to start a new teaching position. He had planned to visit another resort but due to bad weather and on the advice of his mother switched to Tamiment. That evening chance again intervened. To ditch a boorish dance partner, Selma took an extended break in the ladies’ room and on leaving the dance hall ran into Stan who asked her to dance. They danced the night away.

The next week Stan sent flowers to Selma. As she had never called a man before, she hesitantly phoned to thank him for the flowers. She was rewarded with an invitation to the New York ballet the following weekend. With Stan everything was first class – arrangements, flowers, gifts, and even the honeymoon in Bermuda after a short engagement and a December 1956 wedding.

The two years of life in Philadelphia were filled with culture but were also overshadowed by a mother-in-law used to living with Stan and managing his social life. Finally, a colleague at Wharton pulled Stan aside and told him that to save his marriage, he would have to leave the area. Thus, in January of 1958 Stan accepted a position at Michigan State University. He wrote in an autobiographical article that “upon arriving in East Lansing, Selma and I somehow immediately sensed that we were where we wanted to be” (Hollander, 1995, p. 93).

Stan did not want Selma to work so she played golf, joined faculty organizations, and enrolled in the Department of Home Economics, majoring in Textile design because they had a course in millinery. She graduated with a BA degree in 1962 and enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts Program which she completed in 1965. For years, she produced works of art using the forms of fabric collage, serigraphy, weaving, and jewelry sculpture. She also taught courses on and off campus.

After completing her master’s degree, she felt the need to branch out. Although very frightened of water, she took swimming lessons at the Women’s IM on campus. At the end of the summer season, the lifeguard at the University Club pool offered a week of water aerobics which Selma just loved. She found a continuous water aerobics program at the Waverly Elementary School and after dropping Stan off at the office, she would attend three times a week. This pattern continued for 15 years until the Michigan Athletic Club opened near their home and offered water aerobics. She exercised at the MAC for the rest of her long life.

From the beginning, the Hollanders were the consummate consumers of the arts, attending the rich variety offered at MSU and the community venues. For the MSU Art Museum, Stan and Selma organized three years of bus trips to Chicago, Toronto, and Stratford, Ontario combining visits to museums, theater, and music concerts. They quickly attained the reputation as innovative hosts where every bus ride was a gala event in itself.

It is interesting to note that for a long time after their marriage, when Stan would attend a professional conference, Selma would travel with him, find a public golf course, and make herself available as a second, third or fourth in a party as she had in her life as a single professional. Her personality and game made her a welcome addition. Conversely, when Selma attended fine arts conferences, Stan would travel with her, portable typewriter in hand, and happily write during the day. Then, they would share evenings, dining and attending various performances. They both loved traveling and did so each summer and on leaves and sabbaticals. Until his eyesight deteriorated in 1974, they traveled internationally and thereafter turned to Elderhostels where they would string together as many as six week long programs stretching across the country. Selma estimates that they attended over 50 on topics including literature, music, culinary arts (for the eating not the preparing), opera, history, and religion. Even “the making of a circus” and “horse breeding” found a place on the itinerary. By 1980, the Hollanders switched to summers at Chautauqua, New York, where they attended the daily morning to night array of lectures, musical performances, and theatrical events.

For 47 years, Selma and Stan were devoted to each other. By day, they each pursued separate interests, but at day’s end they shared details of conversations, interactions, and activities. They would laugh, mostly at themselves, often with tears streaming down their faces. In later years, Selma pleaded with Stan to stop such exuberance in fear of a heart attack, but of course, he couldn’t. They rarely disagreed, hardly ever argued, and were always considerate. They shared a comfortable but uncomplicated home life, unencumbered by children, interpersonal conflict, fancy cars or other expensive consumer durables. They spent extensively on travel, arts, dining, and Selma’s clothes which were always striking. Even in these excesses they were always conscious of value for the money. Selma and Stan were each distinctively unique yet spent 47 years together in mutual friendship, love, respect, and delight.

A memorial service is being planned for a later date.  Burial will take place in Mount Ararat Cemetery in New York.  Memorial contributions may be made to Michigan State University, or in the greater Mid-Michigan arts community, in memory of Selma Hollander.

Selma Hollander waves as she is acknowledged at the Music Pavilion announcement in June 2018 as one of the lead donors to the project, along with others pictured including Dr. James Billman and Byron Cook.

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