By Debbie Adams
Family and friends of retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer (CPO) Kevin Mark Wilhelm gathered at the Vinton War Memorial on May 30 to pay tribute to him in a poignant ceremony which included the presentation of the American flag to his wife, Page, and family, and the playing of “Taps.” Wilhelm passed away on January 30, 2022, at age 64.
On a warm day, Wilhelm’s grandchildren handed out American flags, pins, and fans so that everyone could participate in the ceremony at the High Ground Vinton-Roanoke County Veterans Monument, led by members of the United States Navy– CM2 McClain of Princeton and GM3 Haines of Lexington.
Wilhelm’s daughter-in-law Taren welcomed the large crowd who had gathered in honor of “such a wonderful person we all knew and loved.”
Throughout the ceremony and in a time of fellowship and sharing of stories afterwards in the Community Center, his family and friends emphasized that Wilhelm was a man who loved God, his family, his community, and his country above all else throughout his life. He was a role model for all.
They have raised funds for a bench built in his honor which will be placed in Vinton with a plaque remembering him as a “beloved son, brother, husband, Chief, father, friend, and ‘Papa,’ strong in his beliefs, stronger in his love, proud of his service, and loving his Lord above. He taught us to preserve and learn from the past.”
Wilhelm was born in 1957 in Roanoke to Doris and Mark Wilhelm. He grew up in the Vinton area, including at Montgomery Village where he established a paper route and built a customer base for The Roanoke Times. He was a graduate of William Byrd High School.
Page Wilhelm says that her husband loved Vinton. It’s where they met and married just a year later in 1977. She says she knew immediately that he was “the one.”
Wilhelm was known to all as a “hard-working man devoted to caring for his family and those he loved.” He and his wife were remembered as always working together as a team.
He worked as a boilermaker/blacksmith at Norfolk & Western Railway (N&W), ran “Mama’s Mercantile” with his wife in Montvale, owned concession businesses with his wife along the Gulf Coast, and served as Chief in the United States Navy. He is remembered as a “jack of all trades” before, during, and after his Navy career.
Wilhelm joined the Navy in November 1986, when he was about 30 years old, and went on to serve his country aboard the USS Saratoga (CG-60), the USS Vicksburg (CG-69) where he earned the honor of becoming Chief (an astounding accomplishment he achieved in under eight years), the USS DeWert, and at Pensacola Naval Station.
He was most proud of his U.S. Naval career and that of his wife, Page, who served as an Ombudsman for the USS Saratoga for four years.
Wilhelm also took pride that the Navy tradition ran deep within his family to include his father, Mark, a veteran of World War II, and his son, Joshua, serving as an ET aboard the USS Nimitz along with his wife, Taren, serving as an Ombudsman.
In his retirement, Wilhelm was a familiar figure in Vinton with his daily walks throughout the downtown area, especially enjoying the Vinton War Memorial grounds and the High Ground Monument and introducing them to his grandchildren. His family and friends say he was a “stranger to none wherever he went.”
One of the many memorable things about Wilhelm was his glorious beard. His family says that once he left the Navy, he never shaved again. He championed several beard competitions earning many “best natural beard” titles. One reason Wilhelm kept the beard was the pleasure it gave his grandchildren to “pull on it and play with it.” He loved to feed those grandchildren as well– and anyone else who stopped by. His family says his beloved pets are missing those home-cooked treats now that he has passed.
Wilhelm also became known for his one-of-a-kind crafted stained-glass art, another family skill learned from his father and passed down to his children and grandchildren, most especially his daughter, Laura.
In a tribute at the time of his death in January, the family said, “To have met Kevin once is to remember him always. To have had Kevin be part of your life is to forever be changed. He leaves with us a legacy of standing up for what you believe, working hard to provide for your family, looking out for ways to check on and help others, looking out for ways to preserve and reuse things, taking pride in your work and craftsmanship, leaving surprises and notes with drawings to remind and show you care, making time to share stories and chase them with a lime…but most of all, loving so deeply to remain forever in our hearts and inspire us daily to continue his legacy.”
Kevin Wilhelm is survived by his wife, Page; his daughter, Laura, and family Kevin and McKenzie Walker; his son, Joshua, and family Taren, Arilyn, and Declan Wilhelm; his sister and family, Marcia and Louis Ostendorff, Jenna and Ani; several other extended family members; and countless friends.