JOE WILT'S TALENT INSPIRED A GENERATION - Calhoun Native Has Died

(06/27/2009)

By Bob Weaver

Calhouner Joe Wilt returned to his ancestral home on Pleasant Hill in 2006, after a "super busy life."

Wilt said it was time to slow down and do some of the things "I always put off," like playing some music for his own enjoyment and reading more books.

"There's plenty to do with the house. It needs a lot of work. And I plan to raise a garden," he said.

"It feels pretty strange to be back home, but at the same time it's really nice. Besides I have a lot of cousins around here, and lots of old friends."

Wilt, at age 65, died suddenly yesterday at at home.

After Hurricane Wilma swept across the Florida Keys, Wilt hunkered down on his porch, the wind had blown the roof from his house.

"I was clinging to a plastic bag with my papers, hoping for the best," he said, with one of his prized possessions, a baby grand piano, completely destroyed.

"It was a great loss," he said.

Wilt said the town not only suffered wind damage, but a five foot surge of water ripped across most of the island.

Wilma was the fourth hurricane to strike the Keys that year.

"Sleeping on a mattress on my porch with no electric and phone for weeks, I decided to move back to the hills of Calhoun County," Wilt said, remembering his youth and the few natural disasters that struck the mountains of West Virginia, provided you live on a hill.

WILT INSPIRED A GENERATION OF STUDENTS

Wilt spent his childhood around Pleasant Hill, graduating from the old Calhoun County High School in 1961.

Following graduation from college, he is best remembered in Calhoun for the eleven years he spent as a band and chorus director at the county's only high school, and as creator of "The Follies."

By the time he left the county in 1977, Wilt had managed to bring the best from Calhoun kids, even exciting high school football team members to sing in a chorus.

"The Follies" ended up being a three-day event that involved several hundred students and drawing a huge crowd of supporters, not only locally, but from around the state. from all over.

Wilt said "It was an exciting time in my life," crediting former band master and musician Clinton Foster for his inspiration. "I remember playing the flute-a-phone under C. R. Yoho when I was in grade school," he said.

Former Calhoun High band director Harry Beall said he a band member under Wilt for six years, graduating in 1971. "Joe Wilt was doing his magic," he said, inspiring him and many others.

KEY WEST DECLARED "JOE WILT DAY"

Wilt's decision to leave Key West after a 25-year career as a teacher and musician was difficult, particularly after the city officially declared "Joe Wilt Day" every May, naming him as the "Ambassador of Music."

He was named south Florida's Teacher of the Year in 1986.

A final salute to Wilt drew over 1000 to Key West High School's $8 million auditorium, with standing room only. He had taught four separate high school chorus groups.

"There was not a dry eye in the house," commented an associate of Wilts, "He left his mark on the lives of many, young and old."

The signs read "We Will Never Forget You."

Key West's mayor recognized Wilt as a man of enormous talent, but even more importantly, his dedication to bringing music to the hearts and souls of his students and people around him.

He helped with dozens of productions at Key West's famous Red Barn over the years.

Wilt said "It was an exciting time in my life," crediting former band master and musician Clinton Foster for his inspiration. "I remember playing the flute-a-phone under C. R. Yoho when I was in grade school," he said.

He was the only son of the late Ernest and Susan Wilt.

Funeral arrangements will be completed at the Stump Funeral Home in Grantsville.


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