GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Two of the three people killed in Thursday’s 46-vehicle pileup on I-94 in Indiana were a married couple from Grand Rapids.
Thomas and Marilyn Wolma were driving home from taking care of Marilyn’s little sister in Wisconsin when they got caught in the pileup outside Michigan City.
Tom Wolma was a retired engineer and was remembered as welcoming and open. He and his wife enjoyed traveling and time together, a friend told 24 Hour News 8.
Marilyn Wolma taught third-grade students at Sibley Elementary for years. She was described as “the best of what we have in Grand Rapids” by her friend Bernice Wisnieski.
When Wisnieski saw news of the pileup Thursday, she knew there was at least a chance her friends Marylin and Tom Wolma were in that area.
“I knew that they were traveling back and when I saw the accident unfold on the news and saw the truck and the cranes trying to remove and that there was a Grand Rapids couple, I didn’t think anything of it,” she said.
She didn’t learned until Friday that the Wolmas were among the dead.
“It was such a shock to hear that this wonderful, wonderful couple met such a tragic situation after coming home to take care of a family member,” Wisnieski said.
She said she got a text from Marilyn on Tuesday.
“Her last words were, ‘I’ll pray for you,’” Wisneiski said.
That message, Wisnieksi said, was representative of her friend Marilyn, who supported everyone she knew.
The two co-taught for eight years at Grand Rapids’ Sibley Elementary. Their classrooms were right next to each other until Marilyn retired in 2008.
“In one way, I feel empty just knowing she will never grace us with her presence in these halls again. It’s a loss for us. It’s a loss for the children. But at the same time she gave so much to the children. She gave so much to us that we are so much better off having known her,” Wisnieski said.
Wisnieski said she thought of Marilyn Wolma as more of a big sister than a colleague.
“Marilyn is with me. She’s guiding me again. She hasn’t left being my mentor,” Wisnieski said while choking back tears Friday.
She hasn’t quite yet accepted that her friend is gone, and told 24 Hour News 8, she takes comfort in the knowledge that the Wolmas’ faith was a cornerstone in their lives.
“Her faith was everything to her,” Wisnieski said. “‘Absent with the body, present with The Lord.’ Those are the words that came to me through friends and through praying that gave me the hope that she is in a better place.”
The Wolmas leave behind three adult sons and two grandchildren.