Richard C. Wilhelm, prize-winning television technician, foreign war veteran, fireman, local businessman, railroad enthusiast, beloved spouse and devoted Woodstocker of over 50 years, succumbed to a long illness on November 25 after a brief stay at Ferncilffe Nursing Home. He was 90 years old.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1923, Dick Wilhelm grew up The Great Depression. Working in local steel mills by summer, he enlisted in the army upon graduating from high school and served as an MP during WWII in China, Burma, and India. Stateside again, he attended trade school in Milwaukee on the GI Bill, studying to be an audio technician. Returning to the army Dick cut his teeth as sound technician on Army Training films — credits which soon garnered him a civilian job at CBS. Finding his niche on “Special Event” crews (evolving into 60 Minutes and CBS Sunday Morning) Dick can be spotted in vintage “out-take” footage from such CBS Specials as interviews with Presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, Reagan, and Jimmy & Rosalyn Carter on the campaign trail, as well as Nelson and Happy Rockefeller. He was a four-time Emmy award winner for specials on Hunger In America, The Klu Klux Clan, The Selling of the Pentagon, and The Rockefellers.
Dick bought a weekend home on Baker Road in Wittenberg in the 1960s and soon met another part-timer, Ralph Goneau, at Ulster County’s, then, only gay bar, The Town House [in the building where Cucina sits today.] A year or so later they moved in together, eventually purchasing what was originally Andersen’s Hardware Store. That location — neighboring Woodstock’s Fire Department — found one or both of them donning day-glo vests the instant a siren sounded — with all traffic immediately halted at their command, as fire trucks sped off to their destinations. In those days Dick’s passion for vintage railroading accounted for the majority of the couple’s free time. Journeying north as far as Canada’s topmost border and as far south as Mexico’s Copper Canyon, in all the two enjoyed over 30,000 miles of travel by way of an autonomous railroad car, privately owned and operated by one Richard C. Wilhelm, dedicated member NARCOA (North American Railcar Operator’s Association.)
According to a New York Times article of 7/18/11 “Ten years ago, when some states began moving toward legalizing same-sex marriage, Ralph Goneau called the Woodstock town clerk with a request: If same-sex marriage ever became legal in New York, he and his longtime partner, Richard Wilhelm, wanted to be first in line.” Though they eventually took their vows on the Queen Mary 2, Dick, Ralph, the media-coverage spawned by them since created quite a cottage industry here, consisting of gay and lesbian couples who come to Woodstock for their marriage license and to be married. And it was provident that Wilhelm and Goneau planned so well and moved so quickly, for though their 43 year relationship — crowned by marriage — was a remarkably happy one, their legal union was indeed brief. Today, Ralph is the only survivor of the man he historically wed two short years ago.
Friends will be received 2 p.m.-4 p.m. and again 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, December 7 at Lasher Funeral Home, Inc., 100 Tinker Street, Woodstock. Formal services will commence at 11 a.m. Sunday, December 8 at the funeral home, followed by burial in Woodstock Artists Cemetery with full military honors. Contrary to earlier press, there will be no reception following the interment. In lieu of flowers, contributions to the Woodstock Fire Companies, c/o P.O. Box 209, Bearsville, N.Y., 12409, would be greatly appreciated.