There is no feeling in a workplace quite like the one when a colleague is taken in the prime of life by either accident, incident or unspeakable disease.
For the Burlington Times-News in the spring of 2013 the culprit was No. 3. It was tough to watch how quickly cancer swallowed Mike Wilder, a longtime reporter, friend and robust newsroom presence — someone whose quirky nature and sense of humor not only pervaded among the writers, photographers and editors but throughout the building and into the public who either participated in Mike’s reporting or read it.
He was, in short, a presence.
Mike was diagnosed with cancer mainly after we all knew something was horribly wrong with him. We had watched him deteriorate for a couple of months. We implored him to see a doctor but he stubbornly carried on along his own path — as was his custom. So when he wound up in the Alamance Regional Medical Center Emergency Room on a Sunday afternoon I wasn’t surprised to get the call alerting me to the situation. When my wife and I arrived at the ER, Mike said it was OK for us see him there. As we walked in he identified Roselee as “my sister, of the home.”
It was a funereal thing to say. I think all three of us knew then the end was near. How close it really was still shocked us.
By April 14 Mike had passed away. It was a matter of weeks really from that day in the emergency room. He was 47 and still had so much left ahead to see, do and accomplish.
In between the time of the diagnosis to his date of death, the Times-News planned a couple of fund-raisers to help with the medical expenses we knew would be nearly insurmountable. After all, we write stories about people in this situation all the time. We created a Facebook page, In Mike Wilder’s Corner. A bake sale was enormously successful, raising a couple thousand dollars. People packed the newspaper’s break room to buy donated goods right before Easter. Mike was stunned by the outpouring of affection and respect.
The second fund-raiser was to be a concert set for the summer. Mike passed away well before the date and his medical expenses were no longer an issue. We decided to hold the concert anyway and earmark the proceeds to help people battling cancer with their own expenses.
That’s how we began what is now a strong partnership with the ARMC Foundation. Four concerts have been held to date in support of the Foundation and its Patricia Bynum and C.R. Byrd funds, money that aids cancer patients with routine expenses that can become problematic while they’re battling the disease. The Times-News concerts in Mike’s memory have raised more than $24,000 to date for this worthy cause. Last year was our most successful concert to date. We raised more than $10,000 through a performance by The Isaacs that drew more than 1,000 people.
Organizers — something I’m not really a part of anymore because I’m no longer with the newspaper — hope to exceed last year’s figures. I hope so, too. Even though I’m no longer directly involved with the concerts, I strongly support them.
The concert this year will be on Sunday — that’s this Sunday, Oct. 22. It will also be in a different venue than last year. The headline guest will be The Nelons, a Dove-award winning and Grammy-nominated group with a national audience. Their music is a range of styles that blend traditional Southern gospel with contemporary influences. Jason Clark, a longtime member of the 40-year-old group told my friend Charity Apple Pierce of the Times-News that the Nelons produce the kind of music that unites. “We feel that our music is a bridge to bring people together,” he said. “Regardless of political affiliations, our music and stories bring balance and variety.”
I think many of us could use that right now. And cancer sufferers and their families can use all the support we can muster.
The concert is set for 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 22 at the Williams High School auditorium, 1307 S. Church St., Burlington. Middle Ground, Bellemont United Methodist Church’s praise band, will perform a pre-show at 6:30 p.m. VIP tickets are $25 and include reserved area seating; $15 for general seating; and $10 for children 12 and under. Tickets can be purchased in person at the Times-News, 707 S. Main St., Burlington, by phone at 336-506-3071 and online at www.thetimesnews.com/nelons.