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Everyday Evangelist: ‘Grand’ legacy kept alive at St. Paul’s Archbishop Leibold Home

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Catherine Finke and Sr. Catherine de Notre Dame, lsp.
Catherine Finke and Sr. Catherine de Notre Dame, lsp.

Most of us want to leave a legacy — a memorial of sorts, large or small, recognizing our lives on Earth and contributions we made.

Mike Ibold Wilger’s legacy is grand. A piece of his life’s mission to the less fortunate brings smiles and laughter, dancing and singing, joy and memories. It is a fixture at St. Paul’s Archbishop Leibold Home for the Aged, the residential facility operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor. It is a baby grand piano.

Wilger succumbed to brain cancer last June. He was 59. But, his memory will live on through the piano he and close friend Joseph Finke funded for the home. It is far from the only act of kindness Wilger made in his short life, but is a tangible reminder of a man who cared for the wellbeing of those less fortunate.

“Michael was a very good person, and a very quiet benefactor to many causes and I respected him a lot,” said Finke, a vice-president at Basco Products, a Mason-based manufacturer and supplier of shower enclosures.

“Michael did not play the piano,” Finke said. “He was a store owner in O’Bryonville, where he sold photographs… and Mike and I would get together periodically to talk. I would stop by the store and we would go out. He knew I was involved with the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

The two has been friends since they both attended high school at Wawasee Preparatory School, a boarding school in Indiana. They both went on to Xavier University.

Back in December, 2005 “our family put together a group of kids to perform at a Christmas show for the elderly residents at the St. Paul’s Home in Clifton,” Finke explained. “We had done this before as a family, but this time we had a wonderful group of kids who were going to play the piano, along with our two children, Luis and Catherine. The event went well… (but) the piano there was very old and sounded more like a saloon piano or a banjo than it did a decent instrument.

“Sometime after the event, Michael and I were talking about how good the kids were, but how awful the piano sounded. We laughed about it and, perhaps through the hand of the Holy Spirit, Mike and I concluded we could donate a piano to the home. Not just any piano… We set out to buy a baby grand,” Finke said.

The two contacted folks to ask for financial support and were partly successful, but “Mike helped out considerably. He always respected the wisdom and wit of older people. This was an opportunity to give back,” Finke said. While he did not divulge the cost, baby grand pianos range from $5,000 to $15,000.

“Since its purchase, the piano has entertained regularly from recitals and sing-alongs to classical and jazz entertainment for the residents at the home. I suspect that if the piano could talk, it would tell many stories about the joy and happiness that it not only brought to the home, but also to those who had the opportunity to play it,” said Finke, now a member of the Little Sisters of the Poor advisory board.

Finke is continuing his effort to remember his friend, said Karen Amend, development director for the Little Sisters of the Poor. “He is asking friends to contribute to a current project at the home: the renovation of three floors of 40-year-old bath halls into private bathing suites. So these two pals are in collusion again on behalf of the residents.”

“This story is really about two long-time pals who shared a friendship over many years. I was not privileged to know Mike personally, but I do know that his spirit of caring is alive and well at St. Paul’s Home,” Amend said.

Finke noted, “We invite you to join us in our effort to continue to keep Mike’s generous spirit alive in support of the Little Sisters of the Poor. The website and donation page may be found at www.littlesistersofthepoorcincinnati.org.”

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