Wilbees spent many Christmases on stage - Christmas 2018
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
The story of Christmas time for Gloria Wilbee has often been finding time to squeeze in celebrations around her other obligations – but she wouldn’t change a thing.
Wilbee, a newly-installed Huron East councillor and long-time Walton resident, grew up in the Mitchell area where her family owned and operated its own service station.
She says her Christmases were “different” because of the family business, which was always open on Christmas Day. As far as the service station was concerned, Dec. 25 was just like any other day. Gloria’s father did his best to find an hour or so throughout the day to close the restaurant so the family could dine and exchange gifts for the holiday season.
Because it was the 1960s, Wilbee said the family had a silver Christmas tree, which was all the rage back then.
She remembers the first year they lived in the apartment connected to the service station and the local Santa Claus made a special visit to their house just for her, an only child.
Wilbee was only seven years old at the time, but she says she still remembers the visit.
Things would change again when Wilbee met Keith, her future husband, at her aunt and uncle’s anniversary party in Stratford.
Wilbee was playing in his family’s orchestra, performing at the party, and the two struck up a conversation, though Keith already knew who Gloria was.
Gloria had already released her first album by that time and Keith could be counted among her fans. He had also seen her sing on television as well.
Keith convinced Gloria to come sing with the group before he proposed, but the musical relationship would soon lead to a marriage. They began seeing each other and then would eventually be engaged on a Christmas Day after their courtship.
When Gloria officially joined the Wilbee family as Keith’s wife, she found she was again working consistently throughout the holiday season. Not unlike her childhood at the family’s service station, the Wilbee orchestra was a favourite locally for Christmas events, church concerts and New Year’s parties, so she was busy again over the holiday season.
When she began working at a nursing home in Mitchell, Wilbee worked every Christmas because she always needed New Year’s Eve off to perform with the orchestra. At the time, Wilbee said the orchestra was booked over the holiday season years in advance.
At home, the Wilbees always found time to be together and celebrate the holidays, their schedule just shifted year to year due to their Christmas performance responsibilities.
This arrangement worked out for the extended family as well, with Keith’s parents playing in the band, just about every member of the family was busy when Gloria and Keith were.
While the orchestra has officially retired from the stage – although it made a brief comeback for the 2017 International Plowing Match in Walton – Gloria and Keith still perform in the community from time to time, most often at local churches or homes for the aged.
They now perform in Egmondville at their new church, but Gloria says that her family was deeply connected to Duff’s United Church in Walton for decades, so when it closed its doors, it was a big blow not only to the community, but to the family as well.
The family now holds a small Christmas dinner and celebration every year. Gloria and Keith welcome children Kevin and Mark back to Walton and involve a few close family members, but the celebration is always a very close-knit group.