Mary Vaughan On Why She Joined the Cather Legacy Society

Those who have been immersed in the Cather community for decades may remember the presence of Mary Vaughan and her mother Evadne at Willa Cather Spring Conferences and International Seminars. Evadne began taking Mary to these gatherings in the 1970s. Over many years, they traveled to Red Cloud, Santa Fe, Winchester, Grand Manan, Quebec City, and Middlebury. Mary recalls being a slow reader as a child, so her mother read Cather novels aloud to her. This activity introduced the texts that would be analyzed while people gathered for conferences and seminars, and Evadne intended it to ensure that Mary understood why people came together for the events.

When asked recently to reflect on her long-time support of the Willa Cather Foundation and why she has included the Willa Cather Foundation as a beneficiary in her estate plans, Mary recalled “unforgettable memories through Cather adventures.” Some of these memories will no doubt be familiar to many friends of the Foundation, in particular hearing Cather’s recorded voice for the first time in a barn-style room at Middlebury College. Mary cited hundreds of faces and friendships that taught them so much and became significant in their worlds. She recalled Mildred Bennett’s tall presence, Sue Rosowski's generous spirit, James Woodress’s kindness, Scott Momaday’s beautiful poems, Marilyn Arnold’s brilliance and warmth, John Murphy’s academic articles, and the “crazy and loveable Canadian scholars.”

Today, Mary is a well-regarded painter. She resides primarily in Santa Rosa, California, and spends extended periods of time in her hometown of Hastings, Nebraska. Looking back, she recalls her relationship with her mother being strengthened through their reading of Cather and their shared experiences at Cather conferences and seminars. Mary credits her mother and Willa Cather as influential figures who shaped her as an artist, noting reading Lucy Gayheart changed her life as a little girl. Characters like Lucy and Thea Kronborg of The Song of the Lark shaped Mary’s aspiration to be an artist from a young age.

Regarding her bequest, Mary noted that she supports the Willa Cather Foundation because of what the Cather legacy meant to her and her mother. Mary recently shared, “It is rather hard to put into words what this author’s work and the Foundation offers for the interested and for those who are seeking meaning.” She continued, “On some level Cather helps us all live a better life. It was true for my mother and me. It is still true, for me.”

For all of us at the Willa Cather Foundation, Mary Vaughan’s generosity serves as both validation and inspiration. Executive Director, Ashley Olson, noted, “Mary’s decades of support and her ensuing bequest have helped to support the current and future work of the Willa Cather Foundation.” She shared that “like Cather’s literature, Mary’s art is a constant presence at the National Willa Cather Center.” A landscape painting titled Prairie Vista that was donated following a 2004 artist residency still hangs prominently in the Foundation’s office, and the lectern used at Foundation events was customized with another beautiful landscape scene that is routinely admired by guests.

The Cather Legacy Society recognizes individuals who make charitable gift plans to benefit the Willa Cather Foundation beyond their lifetime. If you, too, have arranged for a planned gift to benefit the Foundation, or if you would like more information about doing so, please contact

Ashley Olson, Executive Director, at 402-746-2653 or