Butler County philanthropist Harry T. Wilks has died
The name Harry T. Wilks is nearly synonymous with the arts scene in Butler County. The attorney was an avid collector and supporter of the arts.
He died Tuesday on what was his 89th birthday.
Wilks is probably most widely known for creating Pyramid Hill - an outdoor sculpture park with more than 60 works of art and a 10,000 square foot ancient sculpture museum. He also aided in helping the city of Hamilton brand itself "The City of Sculpture."
"We had some pretty intriguing conversations," says Rick Jones, executive director of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts. "I think there's going to be a void in the community without Harry there bringing ideas to the table as well as, in his own rather tenacious way, helping those ideas come to fruition. I think the community's going to miss Harry in a variety of ways."
Wilks grew up in Hamilton and graduated from Miami University in 1948. He joined the university's board of trustees in 2008.
In a statement, Miami University President David Hodge says, "Harry leaves an enormous legacy at Miami and in the Hamilton community. He was one of the most creative and imaginative people I have ever met, and he lived life with an irrepressible joy that inspired everyone around him. He will be greatly missed and long remembered."
Over the years, Wilks gave more than $9 million to various Miami programs and projects creating the Harry T. Wilks Leadership Institute, a conference center, lecture series, and scholarship program. A theater in the new Armstrong Student Center was recently named in his honor as well.
"Young people are the future of our country. More than ever, we need to develop in them those qualities and opportunities which will strengthen our country and our lives." - Harry T. Wilks to Miami University
Wilks was also a founding member of the Hamilton Civic Theater and a long-time member of the Cincinnati Opera's board of directors where he endowed the Harry T. Wilks Artist Director, a position currently held by Evans Mirageas. The Opera says it will dedicate its final production of the upcoming season - Puccini's Madame Butterfly - to his memory.
Mirageas remembers meeting Wilks shortly after the Harry T. Wilks Artistic Director position was created. "Harry looked me in the eye... and said, 'Now look here, I don't want you to do anything that's going to embarrass me.' And he said it with a twinkle in his eye." Mirageas continues, "He was generous with his largesse to Cincinnati Opera but he also expected that we would use his money wisely. I hope we have; I think we have. I think Harry will be looking down on us for a long time to come and I promise not to do anything to embarrass him."
Wilks served as a Hamilton City Councilman in the late 1960s.
A spokesman with Pyramid Hill says Wilks died at home shortly after midnight Tuesday following a month-long illness.
A public memorial is set for 4 p.m. March 29, 2014 at Parrish Auditorium on Miami University's Hamilton Campus.