Date of death: 1/26/2008
Saint Meinrad Class: O 1964
Donald L. Wilhelm, a retired employee of the Toledo Catholic Diocese who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 1987, died at home from the neuromuscular disease. He was 71.Mr. Wilhelm was given just six months to live when first diagnosed, said his wife, Patricia, but his positive attitude and spiritual strength helped him live with the disease for more than 20 years. “I guess he showed them,” Mrs. Wilhelm said.One of 11 children born to Edward and Ellen Wilhelm, Mr. Wilhelm was a native of Fremont who moved to Toledo as an infant with his family when his father was looking for work.After graduating from Central Catholic High School in 1954, Mr. Wilhelm entered Saint Meinrad Seminary in St. Meinrad, IN, with plans of becoming a priest.He went into the seminary for a short period of time, came out, and went back in before deciding he probably wanted to marry someday and have children – and that’s exactly what he did,” Mrs. Wilhelm said.The couple were introduced to each other on a blind date and were married in 1964.Mr. Wilhelm, who attended the University of Toledo, was hired by the Toledo diocese as an administrative assistant to Msgr. Lawrence J. Ernst.In 1971, Bishop John Donovan appointed him director of the newly established Office of Pastoral Services, making him the first layperson to hold a director’s job in the Toledo diocese.Mr. Wilhelm held a number of positions with the diocese, including staff consultant and facilitator for the Catholic Conference of Ohio; consultant for the Bishop’s Advisory Council at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops; president of the Toledo Deanery’s youth council, and secretary of the diocese’s Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Commission.He retired in 1987 after 25 years with the diocese.In 1992, Mr. Wilhelm was featured in an article in The Toledo Blade on living with ALS. He was using a wheelchair at the time, wore a neck brace to support his head, received oxygen from a breathing tube, and required the use of a ventilator at night.If it weren’t for my faith, I don’t think I could cope with this,” he said at the time.He remained active in many areas, including cooking meals at home, counseling people diagnosed with ALS, and leading a monthly Bible study for inmates at a federal prison in Milan, Mich., his wife said.I often think there is nothing I can’t do. It just takes longer or with help,” he told The Blade in 1992.His son, Edward “Ted” Wilhelm, who survived the 2004 southeast Asia tsunami and now teaches in Chile, described his father as “an extremely positive person. He really led an inspired life in that way. He was a deeply spiritual man and had a lot of faith in a higher purpose and a higher calling.”Don was a great father,” Mrs. Wilhelm said. “He had a great sense of humor, was a wonderful writer, and did a lot of things in the community.She said Mr. Wilhelm “learned to cope with the disease and decided he was going to live with it the best he could. And he certainly did.He insisted on cooking dinner, for example, even though he could use only one arm and it took him all day to prepare the food, Mrs. Wilhelm said.I could have done it in 20 minutes, but he insisted. It was important to him. He did all the laundry too. We had a lot of dented washers and dryers from his wheelchair,” she said with a laugh, “but he wanted to do it.Mr. Wilhelm was active in St. Pius X Parish until the family sold their West Toledo home and moved into a one-floor condominum in Sylvania to make it easier for him to get around in the wheelchair, Mrs. Wilhelm said.The family then joined Corpus Christi University Parish, where the pastor, the Rev. James Bacik, was a friend who graduated in Mr. Wilhelm’s high school class.Mr. Wilhelm also was active in the Read for Literacy program; the downtown redevelopment group Levis Square Ministries of Toledo; the Toledo Jaycees, and the Toledo Muscular Dystrophy Association’s advisory committee. He participated in 14 Jerry Lewis Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Telethons, Mrs. Wilhelm said.Mr. Wilhelm was determined to remain active, even if it was only doing crossword puzzles, his wife said. “He did them daily, and he would knock them out in 15 minutes. He was remarkable.When Mr. Wilhelm decided earlier this month that ALS had severely hampered his quality of life, he chose to stop using a ventilator, his wife said.We all thought he would die within two hours, but nine days later he was still alive,” she said. “Everyone in the family had come home, and he said goodbye to every one of them.Surviving are his wife, Patricia; daughter, Gretchen Squires; sons, Martin, Philip, and Edward; brothers, Philip, William, and Joseph; sisters, Dorothy Vandenbroek, Phyllis Wilhelm, Mary Jo Schlagheck, Elisabeth Horwitt, and Peggy Snyder, and seven grandchildren.The family suggests tributes to Corpus Christi University Parish; Hospice of Northwest Ohio; Central Catholic High School, or the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Toledo.Information obtained from the Toledo Blade online, www.toledoblade.com, on 1/28/2008.