Dick Wilt’s father, Herbert S. Wilt, is pictured here on the far right, the youngest of five boys.The photo was taken in 1907 near McHenry, Maryland, where Deep Creek Lake is located.
From antiques and genealogy to ham radio and website development, Bridgeport resident Dick Wilt has used his talents to help make both the city and all of Harrison County a better place for a very long time.
His story started 247 years ago when Stephen Stiles — Wilt’s fifth great-grandfather on his mother’s side — moved into Monongalia County. Several generations later, Wilt was born near Shinnston in Bethlehem on Dec. 5, 1935.
Only six years later, a tornado came through the town of Shinnston while the young Wilt was taking a bath.
“I got out of the bathtub and looked out and saw there were all these dark clouds,” Wilt said.
Wilt’s family purchased a home that was built to replace one that was destroyed in the tornado. He said the devastation remained in the area for a long time.
“For the next 20 years, every time you’d look in the garden or somewhere, you’d find something,” Wilt said. “There were door handles, ashtrays and bottles, all sorts of things.”
Wilt became interested in antiques because of his grandfather’s involvement as a hobbyist collector. He keeps his collection in an old wooden chest that has been passed down through the family.
The first item in his collection of antiques came when a neighbor gave Wilt an 1832 apology letter from a Clarksburg man to a daughter of his who had run away to Virginia. The letter asked the young lady to return home.
“I was only 8 or 9, but she knew I was into genealogy,” Wilt said. “I put it into the chest, and it’s been there ever since.”
Wilt joined the Navy in 1955, and served for 20 years. He said the four Monmirth brothers — who would later became his brothers-in-law after his sister married one — helped in his decision to join the service.
A little older than Wilt, the four boys all served during World War II. Wilt said he always admired one of them — Eugene Monmirth — because he helped with the Navy’s communications.
“I wanted to follow in his footsteps — he influenced me to join the Navy,” Wilt said. “He was a radioman in the Navy during the Second World War, and that’s what I wanted to be.”
Wilt served in the Navy for 20 years as a radio communications technician.
“I analyzed signals,” Wilt said. “It was more detail oriented than being a radioman — it was more specialized than just radio.”
He spent three years as an instructor in the Navy’s communications school, and one year working with emerging printing press technology in the Navy’s print shop.
During his time in the military, Wilt visited Germany, Turkey, Morocco and the West Coast, including California and Alaska.
“I was based on Adak Island in Alaska, which is 1,200 miles west of Anchorage in the Aleutian Islands,” Wilt said. “I was there when I took my test for Ham radio.”
Now the secretary of the Stonewall Jackson Amateur Radio Association (SJARA) in Bridgeport, Wilt said he visited the club a few times in the early 1970s while he was still in the Navy.
One service Ham radio operators provided before long-distance calling became commonplace was a procedure called phone patching. The radios were used to carry the conversations across the country, in lieu of a direct long-distance cable.
“That’s basically what I did for my first year as a Ham was phone patching,” Wilt said. “At that time you didn’t have telephone service like you do now.”
After his military service was complete, Wilt entered a 20-year career with James and Law, a company that sold and serviced offset printing presses. Many of the skills he learned in the Navy were useful for Wilt’s new career.
It was during this career that Wilt was able to further develop his interest in genealogy. Since he was required to take a one-hour lunch every day while working in various cities around the state, Wilt decided to use that time to explore each county’s courthouse.
“I started getting into history of all types, not just my family,” Wilt said. “Now I have a database of over 19,000 people from the state.”
Wilt’s research has led him to believe that all of the families that has lived in the West Virginia area for at least 200 years are related to one another.
“They may not be blood relatives, but they’re related by marriage, so their descendants are blood relatives,” Wilt said.
Wilt retired from James and Law in 1995, and has since increased his involvement with both the Harrison County Genealogical Society and the SJARA. He said he has never held an office with the historical society, but contributes any way that he can.
“I started their website in 2007, and I’ve been keeping it up since then,” Wilt said.
He publishes historical articles on the society’s website as frequently as possible, sometimes on both the first and 15th day of each month.
“Thanks to Dick we’re actually halfway caught up with contemporary practice in genealogy,” said David Houchin, a longtime member of the genealogical society.
Houchin said there was some reluctance on the part of most of the members of the genealogical society to form a website, but now they’re thankful it exists.
“He has always been technical; his other great love is ham radio and he has websites of his own, so he was just the fellow,” Houchin said. “It’s really allowed us to modernize.”
Wilt also writes a monthly newsletter for SJARA, entitled Sinewaves.
Staff writer Zach Tuggle can be reached at (304) 626-1404 or email@example.com
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