Nancy Wiener Marcus sets the bar for living chai
Photos: Courtesy Nancy Wiener Marcus
Nancy Wiener Marcus (second from right) has never associated age with activity. At 72, with, from left, Mary Kate, Jeff, Ana and Sam Mellow and her mother Fan Wiener, she celebrated her bat mitzvah at Temple Shalom.

By Deb Silverthorn

Nancy Wiener Marcus is a woman of talents and spirit, of get-up-and-go and endless energy. From a “6-ish” a.m. sadhana practice to yoga, to time on the treadmill and to tickle the ivories, this lady who turned fourscore in June doesn’t stop.

“I’m always involved in lots at once. Always wanting to do and learn more,” said Marcus, one of Dallas’ treasures. “I took care of my grandparents, my children and then my aging parents. After mother passed, I started attacking ‘my list.’”

Marcus has studied glass blowing, Hebrew, Spanish, piano, yoga, Transcendental Meditation, Reiki healing, acting and, for 27 years, voice with Madeline Sanders, the wife of former Shearith Israel cantor Sol Sanders, both of blessed memory.

“My next life,” she says, “I’ll be on Broadway.”

A Dallas native, Marcus, who is the daughter of Fan and Samson, of blessed memory, and sister of Tom (Marcy), graduated from Highland Park High School. After three semesters at the University of Texas, Marcus married Leon Mellow, of blessed memory. “The script was there. I was raised to care for others, as a wife, mother … supporter; that’s why I think I was born,” she said.

The couple, together 20 years, including nine of those years living in Parker with horses and “Rocky” the rooster, remained close through their Board & Brush and Wiener Lumber companies and their children Lisa, of blessed memory, and Jeff (Mary Kate) and grandchildren Ana and Sam.

“Mother has many great characteristics. She loves getting to know people and helping others. That’s what keeps her going. She has so much knowledge and touches so many by sharing that and her heart,” said her son.

She later married Sam Marcus, also of blessed memory, with whom she shared 12 years. Her concept of “family” never changed and she’s never met a “stranger.”

As a child in Temple Emanu-El’s junior choir, Marcus first learned liturgical music. In 1966, her family joined Temple Shalom, where she served on the board, taught religious school and, for more than 40 years, sang in the choir. She is now a member of both synagogues; prior to the pandemic, she sang in both congregations’ choirs.

Realizing the beauty and power of all music, including that of other faiths, Marcus has for decades sung with Highland Park United Methodist Church, St. Andrew United Methodist Church and the Third Church of Christ–Scientist choirs.

Among her dear friends are musical professionals she calls “family by choice and Baptist musical wonders,” Scott Ayers, Chris Crook and Bradley Reznicek.

“I don’t think ‘my’ guys had been in a synagogue until Lisa passed away, but ‘our’ music, and ‘theirs,’ belongs to everyone. The music, and these guys, are all such a gift in my life,” Marcus said of the trio, who provided musical tributes at her daughter’s and mother’s funerals.

“I love all music, but religious music is something special,” said the ever-spiritual Marcus. “Who’d think this ‘nice Jewish girl’ would ever sing at the funerals of Ross Perot or T. Boone Pickens?”

Marcus and Crook first met 19 years ago. It’s been a friendship of music and much more.

“Nancy’s beauty goes far beyond her pretty face, spectacular head of hair and timeless and ageless nature. It’s soul-deep beauty and it’s contagious. To be around her and not be encouraged and uplifted by her spirit is impossible. She’s a defender of those she loves — always wanting to make someone else’s life easier. I wish the entire world knew Nancy. For those lucky enough to have her in our lives, we know and value the difference she makes,” Crook said.

Crook is Emanu-El’s choir director and has traveled with Marcus for performances at Carnegie Hall and Washington’s National Cathedral. He recalls her request for 11 pillows, laughing at his hope she wouldn’t suffocate. He hopes she’ll return to sing in this year’s High Holy Day choir.

Marcus’ financial support throughout the community is appreciated but so too is her desire to give of her time and talents. She created and performed musical programs for senior living residents, worked as a March to the Polls volunteer — encouraging high school students to vote — and has long made Scottish Rite for Children, for which her father served as vice-chair, a priority.

While the pandemic kept Marcus away from so many of the in-person activities she loves, including hands-on volunteering, she has been part of a phone tree connecting to Temple Emanu-El members and delivering gift bags to new members.

Celebrating her 70th birthday 10 years ago with her daughter Lisa Mellow and mother Fan Wiener, now both of blessed memory, Nancy Wiener Marcus (left) decided to make a contribution to support medical care. Ultimately, her support founded UT Southwestern’s Pancreatic Cancer Prevention Program, now one of the largest such programs in the country.

Seemingly nothing keeps Marcus down; she’s managed pancreatitis since childhood. Not a cancer patient, but aware of the high risk for Ashkenazi Jews (a 50% to 80% excess risk over non-Jews, according to the National Institute of Health), when turning 70, she wanted to help hands-on. Her help came in the form of an endowment to her physician, Dr. Mack Mitchell at UT Southwestern, to support a fellowship.

In 2016, Mitchell, UTSW’s vice-president of medical affairs, introduced Marcus to Dr. Nisa Kubiliun, an interventional gastroenterologist at UTSW’s Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center and now clinical chief of UTSW’s division of digestive and liver diseases and director of endoscopy.

UTSW’s Pancreatic Cancer Prevention Program (PCPP) is the result of that introduction, and donations by Marcus, whom Kubiliun says she can’t honor enough for the lives saved. Joining Marcus’ circle of acquaintances-turned-family, Kubiliun and Marcus have shared Passover Seders, Thanksgivings and more.

“Nancy, a force for good and an incredible cheerleader, put our program on the map. Her passion for giving is intense. We’ve seen more than 4,000 patients and we’re one of the country’s leading academic institutions,” said Kubiliun, affiliated with both Congregation Shearith Israel and Temple Emanu-El. 

Patients with a pancreatic cyst, with significant family history of pancreatic cancer and those with a known genetic mutation, such as BRCA, predisposing them to pancreatic cancer are likely eligible candidates for the PCPP.

“Finding and removing affected areas of the pancreas before a cancer can develop is our touchdown. Thanks to Nancy, and others, we’re doing just that,” said Kubiliun.

The program is a multidisciplinary effort of surgical oncologists, gastroenterologists, radiologists, cancer genetics experts and a robust research team. Specialized MRI surveillance, endoscopic ultrasound and pancreatic biopsy with mutational analysis of pancreatic cyst fluid along with educational materials and long-term follow up care are provided as necessary.

“People need to know about this program,” said Marcus. “I scream it from the rafters and on Facebook. I talk to people in elevators and in line at the grocery store. I want people to know and to tell their people about it.”

Marcus learned through yoga that her 80 years so far are only the beginning. Now a certified teacher, she said that “it’s not how far you go; it’s how you go far.”

That is Marcus’ life defined.

“There’s so much to learn and to do. We don’t realize what’s possible for our existence. If we keep our hearts and minds open, we can do so much to better life for ourselves and for others,” said Marcus.

For more information about UTSW’s Pancreatic Cancer Prevention Program, call 214-645-8300.

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