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Wilt Inspired Musical Talent
by Bill Bailey

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There was a gathering of over 50 people last Friday at Wayne Underwood Field, Grantsville, to honor and remember Calhoun native Joe Wilt who died June 26 at his Pleasant Hill home.

A portion of the crowd that came to remember
music educator and friend, Joe Wilt.

Some came from Key West, Fla., where he spent 25 years teaching music before moving back home in 2006. People came to tell how Wilt opened their minds to music, how music had changed their lives, and of the friendship that will never be forgotten.

Mimi McDonald told of how Joe helped save
the Red Barn Theater in Key West.

Mimi McDonald told a story of the Red Barn Theater in Key West, which was failing until Wilt came on board as a musical director. Through his efforts, it is now one of South Florida’s top theaters. Mimi’s husband, Gary, accompanied much of the evening’s music on drums.

Susie Siers sang The Wind Beneath My Wings.

Susie Siers was grateful for Joe’s support when she suffered from leukemia in the 1970s. He would make daily phone calls to check on her recovery. She ended her tribute with a moving rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Terry Harris spoke of Wilt's big blue Ford Galaxy convertible.

Terry Harris knew Joe since the first grade and thought of him as a brother.

John B. Good of Los Angeles said that when Wilt began teaching music in Key West, they didn’t have a choir, but that after the other kids saw that singing and dancing could be fun, and, with his persuasion and inspiration, by the second year the choir was well established.

Dario Garcia and David Bush performing Blackbird.

Dario Garcia told of the time Wilt brought him to West Virginia to see the hills, meet the people and, since he was just learning the guitar, introduce him to David Bush, who began to teach him a song on the guitar. He and David played the song while he sang it. The song was “Blackbird,” by the Beatles.

John B. Good, James Danz, Bill Gabriel and Dario Garcia
sang Almost Heaven.

The Key West contingent of Good, Garcia, Bill Gabriel and James Danz took the microphone and sang Wilt’s favorite song, “Almost Heaven,” accompanied by everyone.

Others spoke of Wilt’s life-long involvement in community activities and church. He was a qualified water safety instructor and life guard at the Grantsville Pool. A generation of young people learned to swim and participated in water shows.

Terry Harris, Sharon Yoak, Cheryl Jarvis, Susie Siers and David Bush.

Jim Sullivan told of Wilt saving him from drowning at Hersman’s Pond when he was a four-year-old by pulling him from the water and giving him CPR. Other speakers were David Bush, Harry Beall, Sharon Yoak, Calvin Wilson and Rick Poling, who also read a testament from Roger Bush, who was unable to attend.

Harry Beall tells tales of clowning around before class.

Videos clips showed scenes of the Key West choir performances. Many of the more complicated works performed were the same down through the years. Members of past choirs from both Calhoun and Key West ended the program by singing two of Wilt’s favorite pieces, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.” Rick Poling and Gary McDonald accompanied the group.

Wilt’s career in musical education spanned 36 years. The changes he made in the world will go on. He inspired many to become music teachers, professional musicians, and actors. Others still sing and appreciate the logical progression of music. He had the ability to encourage students to open up and discover musical talents that were unknown. He taught perseverance and team work through music.

Click here to see videos from this event

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