By an edhat reader
On July 17, 2022, Robert Paul Wilke died peacefully in his sleep in his home in Goleta, CA.
Born to Edward and Helen (Moersfelder) Wilke on January 16, 1929, in Clintonville, WI, Bob’s early life set the pattern for all that would follow: helping others, church involvement, and music, music, music.
After a happy childhood in Manitowoc – full of ice skating in the winters, running a paper route, washing planes at the airport, arriving early to ring the church bells, playing the clarinet and saxophone, and singing in multiple choirs – Bob attended Carroll College in Waukesha, WI. In addition to completing a major in math and a minor in music, he co-founded a weekly worship ministry serving rural churches, worked at a Presbyterian summer camp where his own faith had grown as a junior high student, sang in his first barbershop quartet, and met Virginia Mae Fenske.
In 1950, he was drafted into the United States Army. He graduated from the Engineer Leaders Course as a Tech Sergeant in 1951 and from Engineer Officer Candidate School as a Second Lieutenant in 1952. He married Virginia Fenske on August 11, 1951, and they lived happily in Alexandria until he was deployed to Korea in 1953. After 5 months of active duty in Korea (during which he traveled regularly to the church at the Pusam AF Base to – of course! – sing in the choir), he was honorably discharged and returned to the United States. Bob and Virginia moved to Chicago and then to Santa Barbara, where Bob worked for Raytheon for 38 years. After a long battle with cancer, Virginia passed away in March 1991.
It was an answer to prayer when Bob met Helen (Harper) McBurney, and they were married July 23, 1995. They shared many full, happy years serving together in their churches, volunteering, and watching their families grow.
Music, faith, and serving others were Bob’s continual pursuits. From his early years singing in the church children’s choir through decades of involvement in barbershop quartets and choruses, Bob lived out his passion to “keep the whole world singing.” He directed the Ventura County Chapter’s barbershop chorus, founded the Santa Barbara Chapter, co-founded the Santa Barbara Sweet Adelines, and sang in award-winning quartets. In each place he lived, he served fervently in his local church, as an elder, choir member, handbell ringer, committee member, junior high choir director, youth group leader, and more. He held firmly to his faith in Jesus Christ until the end. Beyond the church, Bob knew no strangers; he was always either running into friends or making new ones. He served on the Friendship Manor Senior Residents’ Board of Directors for many years and joined the Santa Barbara Mended Hearts chapter in 1992, serving as its president from 2003 to 2010.
Bob is predeceased by his parents, brother Richard (June), and wife Virginia Mae Fenske Wilke. He is sorely missed by his loving wife Helen Wilke, son Michael Wilke (Karen), daughter Debbie Todd (Kevin), stepsons Bryan (Lynne), Scott (Sue), and Bruce McBurney, ten grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. In reflecting on his full and happy life, we can only echo what he himself said: “Thanks be to God for all of his blessings!”
A memorial service will be held Saturday, July 23, at 2 pm at First Presbyterian Church (21 E. Constance St. Santa Barbara). Due to COVID restrictions, a private burial will take place at a later time. Gifts to honor the gift of Bob’s life may be made to Unity Shoppe, St. Jude’s, or a charity of your choosing.