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Over Coffee

Musician Says ‘Who You Hear Becomes Who You Are’
Dec 25, 2008 - 9:04:02 AM

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When people think of Charles “Chuck” Wirick, they usually think of music. In fact, in some circles- like just about anywhere you go in South County- the name “Chuck Wirick” is almost synonymous with “musical production” and the two are often spoken in the same sentence.

But even after knowing Chuck nearly 20 years, sitting down for an Over Coffee interview with him proved once again that what we see and know of most people usually doesn’t even scratch the surface, and often leaves enough un-mined information between the lines to fill a trilogy.

While it’s true Chuck has carved out a reputation as music director for St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Ruskin and played piano and organ at Palma Ceia Christian Church and First Christian Church of Sun City Center, he is also director of both the Kings Point Chorus, composed of about 70 members; the Sun City Center Chorus, made up of about 40; is on the board of directors of the Pelican Players community theater group; and a former president of the local Kiwanis club.
But that’s far from all there is to the man.

At 66, Chuck and his wife, Charlene, have been in South County for more than 18 years, first living in Apollo Beach and now in Sun City Center.

The amount of work and time he puts in as a musical director far exceeds his pay, and many of his “jobs” are volunteer. Taking groups to nursing homes and to events for needy children is a passion for him. Comfortable in elegant halls and as an honored guest, he also learned to speak fluent Spanish while working 13 years as director of transportation for Plants of Ruskin and is outspoken about the needs of migrants and low income families.

Unlike some however, who throw money at problems and expect them to be solved, Chuck takes the time to arrange concerts and benefits that aid those in need, young and old, without regard to who they are or where they live.
He talks with pride about all the civic-minded projects of the Men’s Chorus that just sang at two nursing homes, gave a concert at Freedom Plaza and sang for the Shriners Christmas party for Wimauma children held at Community Hall.
He’s also already promoting the Jan. 9 concert for the benefit of the Sun City Center Emergency Squad, as his work continues year round. It’s not just a “holiday feel-good” thing.

“These people are great,” he said, talking about the groups with which he is associated. “It gets really busy sometimes, but it’s a pleasure (to work with them).”

I believe that most people reading this already know these things about Chuck. I know I did. But in interviewing him for this column, I could see farther- into the things that probably contributed to not only his musical ability and altruism, but into what made him the tremendously interesting person he is. 
It probably began with his great grandfather, a French Huguenot who came to this country to escape religious persecution. Or maybe with his mother, who (Chuck describes as) an incredible musician. Some of his traits and thinking may have come from the same gene pool as his cousin John Coury who wrote all Rod Stewart’s famous songs; or from his dad, who he describes as a “man not trained in music but who had a very big voice and loved to sing.”

“My father was a Baptist minister, spending 25 years at the same church,” Chuck said. “I grew up in Michigan, and he said I would go to a religious college before I went to a secular one.”

That started Chuck’s training in biblical philosophy, which he has continued to read, train in, and teach to this day.

“First I went to William Tyndale College in Detroit, that’s a spin-off of Wheaton College in Chicago, and after that I attended Hillsdale.”

Wheaton, a Christian liberal arts college just west of Chicago, and Hillsdale, an independent college founded in 1844 that refuses all taxpayer dollars and state and federal funding (operating only on donations and tuition) so it can teach exactly what it sees fit, together helped Chuck earn his music and Christian education degree.

“We got a double-load there,” he explained. “We had to take the same courses as those studying for the ministry, plus our music.”

So that’s where the knowledge he uses in his studies of the Bible was rooted.
Slowly, the pieces began to fit together, filling in gaps of the puzzle. Like “How come a music director also gives instructional classes in both the Old and New Testaments and on the history of Judaism and Christianity?

But I still didn’t know about the act of God that changed the course of Chuck’s life.
While working his way through school, now in Atlanta, another story altogether we won’t go into here, there was a job opening at a very large Methodist Church. He and many others applied. “The man I was talking with didn’t even ask me to play. I knew I wasn’t even going to be considered,” he told me with a smile. “They had a very prestigious organist scheduled to play there that night. Then an ice storm broke out, and the man couldn’t get there.”

The church was really in a pickle then: no organist for church’s magnificent pipe organ and guests already arriving.

So Chuck was asked if he could play (not for the audition) but for the highly-publicized event!

“My whole life changed because of that ice storm,” Chuck said. After that, he worked there full time for 12 years, eventually becoming director of music.     
That, coupled with the fact that he had worked at Brookside Church in Jackson, Mich., while attending Hillsdale, and while there had been part of a team that hosted famous guests such as former President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher – not playing music, but doing all kinds of chores from setting up rooms for seminars to shuttling people to and from the airport- gave him the training and background he needed to be comfortable with people from all walks of life.

“I went to school I was taught by and sat with people who were - or have since become -famous, like Dr. Shaw who was (then) the director of the Presbyterian Hospital in Jerusalem. He would bring in rabbis to teach us the Old Testament. Frances Shafer was there, a classmate. He’s since started a famous retreat in Switzerland where people can go and study and discuss philosophies. Dr. Norman Geysler (author of many books on systematic theology) was my roommate for awhile. And Jose Feliciano (folk singer) was just a coffeehouse guitarist then. I’ll bet he could do 100 songs one right after the other.”

“What you hear becomes what you are, and even though I wasn’t into all ‘that’ then, I know I was influenced by the people who were around me,” Chuck said.
I know that statement to be true. We are influenced by the people around us. And in my opinion, anyone fortunate enough to get an hour interviewing Chuck is much better off for having had the opportunity.

Thanks Chuck. It was my pleasure.

*Perhaps you have something you’d like to share. Or maybe you’d rather tell the community about your favorite charity or cause: or sound off about something you think needs change. That’s what “Over Coffee” is about. It really doesn’t matter whether we actually drink any coffee or not (although I probably will). It’s what you have to say that’s important. E-mail me any time and suggest a meeting place. No matter what’s going on, I’m usually available to share just one more cup.

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