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Obituary

Marilyn Wood

January 6, 2023 | 16 comments

Marilyn Wood, beloved teacher, choreographer, community leader, entrepreneur, world traveler, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, passed away peacefully on Monday, January 2, 2023, at Lakeview Health Center in West Salem, Wisconsin, after a remarkable and adventurous life.  She was 91 years young.

Marilyn was born on March 22, 1931 to Anton (Tony) and Grace Bruha in La Crosse. She graduated from Aquinas High School in 1949.  Despite growing up with responsibilities far beyond her years due to her mother having contracted polio prior to her birth, Marilyn’s curious spirit and zest for life touched the hearts of all who were lucky enough to cross her path.

Marilyn married Charles (Chuck) Bull on April 22, 1950.  A mutual love for dance brought Marilyn and Chuck together, and they enjoyed many happy hours dancing the night away at area ballrooms.  They welcomed three daughters, Corinne (Corky), Toni and Julie, who were fortunate to be born into their parents’ world of music and dance.

Marilyn discovered her lifelong passion when she began taking dance lessons at age eight.  A combined love for dance and children naturally led Marilyn to found her own dance studio, Marilyn School of Dance, in La Crosse in 1951.  For more than 50 years, Marilyn trained thousands of Coulee Region dancers in ballet, tap, jazz and other styles, some of whom went on to dance professionally.  In addition to being a stickler for proper ballet technique, Marilyn took pride in developing her students’ confidence, strength, discipline and poise.

Naturally, Marilyn’s students eventually included her own children and grandchildren, and her dance legacy continues in her family to the present.  Following in Marilyn’s footsteps, both Marilyn’s daughter Julie and granddaughter Melissa established their own dance studios.  Marilyn was a familiar face at Julie’s studio well into her eighties, assisting in ballet classes and guiding young dancers on proper technique.  The family dance tradition continues to this day with several of Marilyn’s great-granddaughters currently performing and competing throughout the country.

Before and after Marilyn’s retirement, former students would approach her with kind words of appreciation and thankfulness.  Marilyn truly cherished and loved hearing of her dancers’ memories and accomplishments. To many students, the dance school became their second home.  Marilyn also showed great generosity to families who had difficulty affording dance lessons for their children, and she ensured all children who wanted to dance had the opportunity to do so.

In 1968 Marilyn met Dennis Wood at a production of the La Crosse Community Theatre. They spent many years traveling to 35+ countries, making friends everywhere they went. She hiked the Himalayas, swam with piranhas in Peru, side-stepped a coup in Sri Lanka – no adventure was off limits. She also loved traveling with her brother, David Bruha, including their journeys to Europe and camping trips around the United States.

In later years, Marilyn enjoyed single travel.  Perhaps her favorite destination was India, to which she traveled seven times, teaching dance to children with polio. She had a special love for those children due to her own mother’s polio experience.

Marilyn had a lifelong love of reading and a strong appreciation for nature. She enjoyed adventures of hiking the bluffs behind her south side home with family and friends. Bonsai gardening was another favorite pastime.  Of course, Marilyn absolutely loved performing and could be found on stage tap dancing or acting well into her twilight years.

Marilyn had the opportunity to build her own home in the south side bluffs of La Crosse in 1997. Through her connections she met an architect from Country Living magazine, who helped her design an English country home and garden.  Marilyn’s storybook home graced the cover of the magazine in April 1998. She loved nothing more than giving garden tours to family and friends to explore what was in bloom!

Community meant a great deal to Marilyn, and she served it as a board member and volunteer for the La Crosse County Historical Society and as a volunteer for CASA for Kids.  Marilyn also was the choreographer for many La Crosse Community Theatre productions, including choreographing its very first musical, Bells are Ringing, in 1964.  The La Crosse Community Theater honored Marilyn’s choreography contributions by inducting her into its Hall of Fame in 2017, a very proud moment for her. Marilyn was instrumental in founding the Great River of Arts Festival in 1963 and also choreographed and acted in many Children’s Playhouse productions.  The YWCA selected Marilyn as its Outstanding Woman of the Year in the Arts in 1996.

In addition to Marilyn’s professional and community achievements, family was extremely important to her. Marilyn honored her Norwegian and Bohemian heritage by gathering family members at holidays to make and enjoy lefse, sandbakkels, rosettes, and potato dumplings slathered in “greasy gravy.”  She made sure to make time for each of her children and grandchildren, often taking them on special trips to see a Broadway show or skiing.

Marilyn was preceded in death by her parents, Tony and Grace Bruha, an infant sister, Mary, granddaughter Rachel Asher, and her friends John and Bill who were so good to her when she needed some gentle guidance and companionship.

She is survived by her three daughters, Corky (Richard) Huber, Toni Asher and Julie Austin (Kurt Knappen); brother, David Bruha; special foster daughter, Agnes Mabiong (Gordon) Johnstone; 11 grandchildren, Scott (Jessica) Ferrier,  Kelly (Matt) Stohr, Tracy (Tharren) Appleton, John Asher, Jonah (Hiroko Nobusada) Asher, Adam (Sandra Boskamp) Asher, Julia (Adam) Snow, Grace Asher, Justin (Angela) Asher, Melissa Boudreau and Brian (Heather) Needham; 15 great-grandchildren, special nieces, nephews and other relatives as well as many dear friends.

A celebration of Marilyn’s life is planned for June 14, 2023 – one more recital! Details will be provided as the date approaches. In lieu of flowers please consider a donation in Marilyn’s name to CASA for Kids, La Crosse Community Theatre or the La Crosse County Historical Society.

The family has such appreciation for the compassion and genuine kindness of the Lakeview Health Center staff, along with Dr. Loepfe and Cindy Glennie, who so lovingly cared for Marilyn these last few years.

Marilyn’s love of nature deepened as she grew older.  The walks she took with her daughters were full of joy and wonder.  We hope you will think of her when you walk in the woods, watch the birds or look at the clouds against a blue sky.  Thanks for teaching us so much, Mom. We love you and are so proud to forever be “Marilyn’s daughters.”

 

 

 

Condolences

16 Comments

  1. Sue Ristow Rindner

    To Marilyn’s Family…what a wonderful obituary! She was a wonderful woman who made every dancer feel like a potential prima ballerina….and was so graceful and beautiful we all could see her in that role. So sorry for your loss…it sounds like she lived and full and rewarding life and made the world a better place for everyone.

    Reply
  2. Stewart Hunt

    Marilyn became a very special part of my younger adult years when I was welcomed into her & Dennis’s home in Bangor, after I first moved to America in 1985.
    Marilyn had such a calming & joyful presence, she loved to laugh and she was so generous in every way.
    We kept touch even when I moved back to New Zealand, and I have precious memories of the times when I subsequently visited LaCrosse and we caught up.
    You are missed Marilyn, but I know you will be dancing with the angels and laughing along the path of your new adventure.

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  3. Kristine Huber

    Such an amazing life!! What a wonderful tribute. Our condolences to her whole family. Kris and Ron Huber

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  4. Terri Pavia (Skover)

    Marilyn was such a wonderful woman and a great influence on so many lives including mine. I thought of her often with love and admiration . She will be missed

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  5. Kathryn Bruha Karlsson

    Thank you for the beautiful life story of Marilyn. I have lived abroad for 37 years, so haven’t been in touch. Many fond memories of this GREAT woman!
    I was one of the MANY who took dancing from Marilyn, and enjoyed adventures with my cousins Corky, Toni and Julie.
    Hugs to you all, and thanks for the memories.

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  6. Roy Stintzi

    My deepest sympathy to Corky, Toni, Julie and your families and the Bruha family. May she Rest In Peace.

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  7. Terry Visger

    Marilyn was truly a remarkable woman. I was first introduced to her through her husband Dennis who was in the Kiwanis organization with my husband. We all went on a weekend ski trip one winter. Later my daughter attended Marilyn School of dance and then I knew her through her wonderful daughter Toni. I have lovely memories of Marilyn. She was a beautiful woman in all ways. Tell her stories often and she will stay with you.

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  8. Deb Schams

    Beautiful tribute for an extraordinary woman. Marilyn was a pioneer for dance and the arts in La Crosse and beyond. I met her in 1978 when her dance studio was on Main St. in La Crosse. She was kind and caring and helped shape the lives of many young people in a very positive way. Her legacy will live on and on.

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  9. Lisa Garner

    So sorry for the loss of your mother Marilyn Wood. Marilyn played a huge part of my childhood and young adult life. I studied ballet under her in the Studio on Main st. That long wood staircase, and many hours with her doing musicals and plays. I will forever be thankful for the grace she gave me and the encouragement to continue with dancing. Lisa Kiehne-Garner.

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  10. Julie DeFlorian Keitel

    What a remarkable woman and mother! My deepest sympathies to her daughters, who I met at St Pius School. Sweet memories of your mother will always be in your heart

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  11. Rebekah Seely

    I’m so sorry to hear of Marilyn’s passing. She was a remarkable person who gave so much of herself. Sending Peace, Love, and light to the family.

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  12. Jennifer Hill

    My condolences on the loss of Marilyn. It was an honor for me to spend time with her at LHC. She and her dance school figure so highly in my childhood memories!

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  13. Tina Cremer

    When I was 15 or 16, I met Marilyn when she choreographed “The Boyfriend”, directed by Mike Thompson at the La Crosse Community Theatres “Theatre Under the Stars” at Mt. La Crosse. Virginia Solie, my best friend, and I were two of the shows “Perfect Young Ladies”. We practiced our dances in front of the tall truthful mirrors in Marilyn Studio. Not once did she make us feel uncomfortable during our learning process. Not once did she show impatience or frustration with our lengthy learning process. We all loved her. She made us feel like stars. Many people have since thanked her since saying, “Marilyn turned a klutz like me into a dancer”. And like me, many people loved her.

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  14. Katie (Mumaw) Luick

    My heart is hurting for all who knew and loved Marilyn. Marilyn was always quick to say hello, ask how I was doing, and give a hug after a performance. My childhood is molded by the hours I spent down at the studio. Those moments continued well into my teens and twenties when I took classes with Julie and taught as well. She lived a phenomenal life. My prayers and love are with you all.

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  15. Larry Ruff

    Remarkable woman. I once told her that I was like a 2 x 4 unable to dance. She quickly responded, I’ve taught many 2 x 4s how to dance.
    A woman of great character, class and grace.
    My sincere condolences to the family.

    Larry Ruff

    Reply
  16. Leslie Scot Rigg

    I have been living away from La Crosse, so just saw this obit. Marilyn was a love, and a joy to know
    I send much love to Corky, Toni, and Julie.
    Leslie Scott Rigg
    Houston, Texas.

    Reply

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