Louis Wilker

January 24, 2018

FOR YOU Louis ver 1[1].2

Louis Wilker, 92, of Asheville, NC, died on Sunday, January 21, 2018, at Mission St. Joseph Hospital in Asheville after a stroke.

Louis was born on the Lower East Side of New York City on February 23, 1925, the sixth and final child of Charles and Lillian Wilker, who had emigrated from Galicia, a region in the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is now a part of Poland. Three of his siblings were also born in Galicia. One sibling (name unknown) died in early childhood in Galicia, and another, Molka, died in infancy in New York City.  Louis was also preceded in death by his sister, Helen, and his brothers, Joseph and M. David.

Louis married Jenny Squires in Wilton, Connecticut, on July 4, 1964. He is survived by Jenny and by their two sons, Ian and Josh, and by their four grandchildren, Evan, Theo, Jack, and Exley.

In 1943, Louis graduated from Stuyvesant High School in New York City. The following year, he enlisted in the United States Navy, where he completed radioman school and served as a Seaman, First Class. He was awarded the American Theater Medal and the Victory Medal and received an Honorable Discharge in 1946. In 1949, he graduated cum laude with a bachelor of science in social sciences from the College of the City of New York (CCNY). Upon his graduation he was awarded membership in the Phi Beta Kappa society and won the Alvin Johnson Prize Scholarship for graduate study at the New School.

Instead of pursuing graduate studies at the New School, Louis entered the work force, working for five years as a project director in the consumer research department at Grey Advertising, where he headed up such projects as a 1955 interview-based study of the consumer brassiere market. In 1957, he began graduate studies at New York University. At NYU, he served for several years as an associate research scientist supervising a large-scale statistical-ecological study of juvenile delinquency in New York City. The project would have been the basis of his doctoral dissertation, but several years into the study, funding for the study was suspended. Louis completed all requirements for a PhD except for the dissertation.

Throughout his career as a sociologist, he used his deep understanding of sociology and his prodigious abilities as a researcher and team leader to help make society better and more just for everyone, focusing his efforts especially on helping those beset by the pronounced poverty he had experienced while growing up in the Depression on the Lower East Side. From 1970 through 1976 Louis worked as the Assistant Director of Research at the New York City Department for the Aging, where he supervised the implementation and analysis of a major social survey of the elderly living in poverty and developed techniques for assessing the needs of the elderly in these areas. From 1976 through 1980, while serving as the Director in the Performance Evaluation Program at the New York State Division of Criminal Justice, Louis supervised a research team providing recommendations in such areas as family court, juvenile corrections, and child abuse and neglect. From 1980 until his retirement in 1990, he was the Director of the Program Planning Unit for the New York City Agency for Child Development, where he led a team that researched, evaluated, analyzed, and developed agency response to state and national legislation impacting child care in New York City, most significantly providing scientific, data-driven advocacy for the Head Start program.

Louis was also a highly valued mentor to many fellow social scientists, scholars, and political activists. “He was my sociologist,” remarked Theodore D. Kemper, author of the groundbreaking sociology book A Social Interaction Theory of Emotions. As Kemper wrote in the preface to that book, which pioneered the field of the sociology of emotions, “The first definite formulation of the theory of social relationships of this book emerged for me in conversations with my friend and colleague Louis Wilker. Without the many occasions when he and I sought to obtain a clearer understanding of social psychology, this book could not have been written. I owe him a debt of deep gratitude.” A similar sentiment was expressed by his wife, Jenny, in the preface to her doctoral dissertation on the artist Honoré Daumier, Daumier’s “Histoire Ancienne”: “To Louis Wilker, for his knowledge of social theory, exceptional skills as patient and critical listener and reader, and stalwart encouragement, I dedicate this work.”

Louis played the recorder and loved to listen to classical music, most especially the music of Bach. He loved movies from the time, as an eight-year-old, he saw the original King Kong in the theater. He also enjoyed going on long walks ever since he was a child, his favorite walk from childhood onward being the one that took him from Lower Manhattan all the way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Upper East Side. At the Met, throughout his life, he liked to silently and deeply “converse” with his favorite painting, the 1660 self-portrait by Rembrandt. He continued his love of art, music, movies, and even long walks all the way to the end of his life, when he made his way up and down the hills of Asheville to get from the home he shared with Jenny all the way to the Greenlife Grocery Store to have a coffee, perhaps read a little from a massive tome on Marxist sociology or World Systems Theory, or perhaps just reflect on the beauty and mystery of life.

The family will be planning a memorial gathering in Louis’s honor in the spring so that family and friends from far away might be able to come. In lieu of sending flowers, please consider donating in Louis’s honor to one of the organizations Louis supported:


  1. Josh, my deepest condolences for your loss.

  2. Sorry to learn this, Josh…I already felt I knew him from your books and earlier posts.


  3. Sorry to hear, Josh.

  4. Let me add my condolences to you and your family.

  5. So Sorry to here Josh. Beautiful Written Article. God Bless and Take Care.

  6. Josh, You nave my condolences. Asheville is a beautiful place to live to live out a peaceful life. Beautifully written tribute to your father. I probably read in your earlier blogs, but your parents got back together after all? If so, what a story! Love & Mercy to you and family.

  7. So Sorry to here Josh. Beautiful Written Article. God Bless

  8. You have my condolences Josh. Thank you for sharing this fine tribute.

  9. They did get back together. It is a beautiful story.

  10. What a wonderful tribute to your dad, Josh. It sounds like he touched many lives. Please accept my condolences.

  11. My sympathies. Your father was quite an accomplished fellow.

  12. Sorry to hear it but a wonderful tribute. My father has worked for the NYC Department of Mental Health since 1977, I wonder if they crossed paths.

    Also I just started a blog tracing a filmed 1968 walk from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park – I wonder if it overlapped with your Dad’s route. 1968nyc.wordpress.com

  13. Lovely tribute to this NY intellectual and his morality…I loved him, too

  14. Beautiful job, Josh. There was so much I didn’t know about Uncle Louis. I wish I could talk to him again. Thank you. Love, Andrea W. Squires

  15. I’m so sorry, Josh. He sounds like a wonderful man. I wish your family comfort during this time.

  16. Josh, you and your family have my sympathy and best wishes.

  17. Mr. Wilker,
    I only know your mother a little through our association at The North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville. But now I feel I know your father a little as well through this tenderly written story of his life of service and reflection. Please accept my sincere sympathy in this loss and my love to your mother and family.
    Clara A. Curtis

  18. It was my privilege to attend the shiva Louis’ family held for him. Talking with his sons, grandchildren, and of course Jenny helped me appreciate Louis all the more. The “museum” of his books and papers was filled with his presence. I have taken to heart his determination to keep walking as long as he possibly could, overcoming all sorts of obstacles in order to keep at it. Rest in peace, Louis.

  19. Belated condolences, Josh. I’m sorry to hear this news.

  20. Clearly, a life well-lived.

    >>>>study of the consumer brassiere market

    “You know about the cup sizes and all? They have different cups. You got the A, B, C, the D. That’s the biggest. … What else? You got the cups in the front, two loops in the back. Alright, I guess that’s about it.”

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