The award recognizes an individual who has made significant contributions to his or her field and to the arts, and who provides continuing friendship and support to MMF. Past recipients include Cornelia Cooper, SCC President Dr. Jo Marshall and MMF founder Gabrielle Gray.
Wilhelm joined the board in 1998 after retiring as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Somerset. He served as a volunteer with the festival after he attended that first time, and serving in that capacity made him want to be more involved.
“I’ve always believed a minister should be involved in the community, not just his or her church,” he said.
Wilhelm was eventually elected president of the MMF board, and his specialty was parliamentary procedure. He helped the board adopt Robert’s Rules of Order and stayed on as parliamentarian even after he vacated his board seat.
MMF President Tiffany Bourne joined the board during Wilhelm’s time as parliamentarian. She reveres Wilhelm as the “kindest, most supportive and most calming person in the MMF family.
“He loves the festival and respects its history, and in return reminds us to always respect its history,” she said.
Like all MMF board members, he also specializes in music appreciation. Though folk is his favorite, Wilhelm enjoys rock, bluegrass, and country, and values MMF for its role in supporting music of all kinds.
“It is not just one genre of music, like so many festivals these days,” he said. “There’s always something for everybody.”
Though many things have changed through the years, MMF’s mission has remained the same — and Wilhelm believes that is why such strong camaraderie exists among board members.
“My experience was that it was something these people really wanted to do,” he said. “People wanted to be there; they didn’t feel like they had to be there.”
The community has shown support in impressive fashion as well, Wilhelm said. He remembers a year when board members determined there wasn’t enough money to continue. When the board announced MMF would not happen that year, many in the community got upset, and responded with enough assistance to allow the festival to go on.
“I think MMF has grown because the community has gotten behind it,” Wilhelm said.
Originally from Glasgow, Kentucky, Wilhelm is a graduate of Centre College in Danville and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He served in churches in Mississippi and North Carolina before returning to his home state. He was pastor of FPC of Somerset for 32 years.
He is the father of four children, Karen, Gary, Lauren and Jonathan. His wife, Nina Wilhelm, is a retired social worker.
When Wilhelm’s son Gary passed away, the family established a scholarship in his memory. Because Gary was a musician, the family wanted a person with an interest in music to receive it, and asked the MMF board to help find someone. The board chose Keila-Ann Coomer, who is majoring in music at Campbellsville University.
Wilhelm has also served as president of the United Way, the original Pulaski Family YMCA, the United Way, the Somerset-Pulaski Chamber of Commerce and the Somerset Human Rights Commission. He served on the board of the Blakley Family YMCA and the Somerset Jaycees. And he was involved in starting God’s Food Pantry, Pulaski Emergency Relief Ministry and the Volunteer Chaplaincy Program at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital.
Currently, he teaches a Sunday school class called The Thoughtful Christian at FPC of Somerset, which discusses current events.
Wilhelm said he was surprised to learn he is receiving the lifetime achievement award, and feels honored to be associated with the volunteers who organize an event such as this.
“It is an honor to be recognized by something you believe in, something you’re proud to be a part of,” he said. “It was hard for me to stop being involved, so it’s like I’m becoming involved again.”