Beth Wilkes: Wheeling’s Quiet Kindness Hero

In 1968 a young lady named Beth Wilkes boarded a bus from Buffalo, New York destined for Wheeling, West Virginia — a city she would call home for the next 50 plus years. Beth, a recent graduate of Nazareth College in Rochester and daughter of pediatrician Dr. Frederick B. Wilkes and nurse Elizabeth M. Wilkes, was sent to Wheeling on assignment through the Americorps’ Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) Program. Beth was a slight, quiet woman, but she had a heart and compassion far greater than anyone else.

Three years prior to her arrival in Wheeling, Beth found herself watching the 1965 March on Selma, Alabama which was broadcast around the country. This moment, which changed the trajectory of our country and changed the Civil Rights movement, also changed Beth Wilkes. On her breaks from college, she traveled to Selma where she regularly volunteered within the local community, specifically teaching African-American nursing students to read.

After graduating from college with a degree in Speech Therapy, Beth sought a VISTA assignment and this time traveled to St. Vincent DePaul and St. John’s Children’s Home in Elm Grove, West Virginia. While working as a mentor to orphans, foster children, and troubled youth, Beth quickly fell in love with West Virginia and left VISTA to work full-time at St. John’s Children’s Home. She thus made the decision to settle permanently in West Virginia.

Shortly after calling Wheeling her new home, Beth befriended one of her coworkers at St. John’s Children’s Home, Sister Kathleen Schiffer, a Sister of Saint Joseph. Initially a business relationship, this would eventually turn out to be a wonderful life-long friendship. Sister Kathleen introduced Beth to the Community of the Sisters of St. Joseph as well as to Sister Kathleen’s own large and happy family — both of which accepted Beth into their hearts and lives.

Throughout her life, Beth held several jobs but only one calling — to be of service. This single mission included a position as distribution coordinator for the Wheeling News Register. Like everything else she did in life, she took pride in this work and used it as a means to give to others — whether that meant cooking a Thanksgiving dinner, buying extra gifts for Christmas or simply being with someone who was alone for the holidays.

Beth and Sister Kathleen remained close throughout their lives, both working at Ohio Valley Medical Center for decades. While at OVMC, Beth proudly served as Director of the hospital’s Lifeline Program for which she traveled throughout the Ohio Valley helping to install medical alert systems in the homes of the elderly, infirmed or afflicted. She made friends everywhere she went, staying with her clients for hours at a time, also coming back to check on them in two weeks — sometimes even two days — later. If she felt she was needed, she was there.

Beth involuntarily retired in October of 2019 when OVMC closed. She then suffered the huge loss of Sister Kathleen only a month later. Everyone in Wheeling has seen the two of them out at Perkins or the Alpha — Beth, the reserved calm that contrasted and complemented Sister Kathleen’s humorous rowdiness — and their presence will surely be missed.

To those who were lucky enough to know and love her, Beth was a reassuring hand on your back, a voice always asking “what more can I do” and a quiet smile that was not so much shy as it was waiting to hear how she could next be of assistance.

Very sadly, Beth died suddenly on October 16, 2020. She is survived by her 98 year old mother, Elizabeth Wilkes, of Buffalo, NY; her sisters: Brenda Ward of Syracuse, NY; Kim Evanko (Mark) of Columbus, IN; Ellen Jaus (Robert) of Clarence, NY; her brother Frederick B. Wilkes, II of Buffalo, NY and numerous nieces, nephews and grand nieces and nephews — each of whom had a special place in her heart,

If anyone wishes, donations in Beth’s memory can be made to the Sisters of St. Joseph who always played a big part in her life in West Virginia. Their address is: The Congregation of St. Joseph, 137 Mount St. Joseph Road; Wheeling, WV 26003. To all of Beth’s friends, supporters, and boosters in West Virginia and Ohio, please know her family will always be grateful to you for so often being there for her when we could not.