WBOI staff, volunteers and friends remember Stan Whippo
Longtime classical music host Stan Whippo passed away October 14, 2021. He was 94. Stan hosted the live, four-hour classical music show Matinee every weekday on our sister station Classical WBNI, for more than twenty years, before retiring in the fall of 2018.
WBOI’s Julia Meek and Ben Clemmer have this remembrance of his life, and service to the community.
“Stan and I enjoyed our ‘senior badges of honor.’ Mine being the longest-term volunteer here at the station–his being the oldest and wisest member of our team.” When Julia Meek spoke with Stan Whippo for WBOI’s Behind The Mic series in 2017, Stan had only recently turned 90. “We wound the clock back to talk about his college days at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he studied to be a teacher, following in the footsteps of his mother and many other teachers on her side of the family.”
“When I was going to college, back in Pennsylvania, our first year, the first semester we took appreciation of music, and the second semester appreciation of fine arts, and so I learned a lot about music at that time and I’ve made a notation of a lot of it and it’s just come back to me,” Stan recalled. “I think I gained most of my knowledge in that semester at college.”
Stan spent 46 years working for United States Steel, and much of that time in Pittsburgh. Classical music remained a part of Stan’s life. Stan’s friend Rob Nylund, Host of Classical Mornings and Symphonically Yours on WBNI, remembers a story Stan told him about a concert at that time. “He talked about attending concerts of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra during the years he lived in Pennsylvania. One of the more memorable experiences for Stan was when he had the opportunity to see the young Leonard Bernstein playing the piano during a guest appearance in Pittsburgh.”
Stan met his wife Eileen after being transferred to Detroit. He was transferred back to Pittsburgh, and then to Birmingham where he lived during the civil rights movement of the sixties. He was transferred two more times, first to Louisville, Kentucky, before a stop in Cleveland, Ohio.
Stan’s audio world didn’t actually start at WBNI or even in Fort Wayne according to his daughter, Kathy Haller. “He’d been reading textbooks for the blind when he was in Louisville.” After taking early retirement and moving to Fort Wayne to be with Kathy and his grandchildren, Stan spent over 24 years volunteering with the Audio Reading Service at the Allen County Public Library, logging 1,870 hours.
Stan spoke with Julia on WBOI’s Behind The Mic about how he came to host on WBNI. “Some years back, Paula Rice, who used to work here at the radio station, was there as a guest reader and she suggested I come over here to WBNI and serve on the air, and I accepted the invitation.”
Several friends of the station, some former WBOI employees, some of our co-workers and volunteers who knew Stan well painted a pretty clear picture: He was a gentleman. “He always liked to come in and he’d walk around, and make sure to say ‘hi’ to everybody,” said WBOI Business Manager Jackie Didier.
Many reflected on Stan’s good humor, like former WBOI Programming Director Colleen Condron, “Stan always reminded me of my grandfather, with his sense of humor and his crossword puzzles… I can still hear him when he was most frustrated, he would say, ‘oh foot!’ And that was sort of Stan’s height of frustration. ‘Oh foot!’”
WBOI Volunteer and Host of the Movie Music Spotlight Rob Martinez shared one of Stan’s jokes. “‘What’s the difference between the city of Cleveland and the Titanic? Cleveland has the better orchestra’.”
Though he worked in Cleveland for part of his time with U.S. Steel, Stan was an avid Detroit Tigers fan and he and Rob would often talk about music and baseball, and Stan bought several boxes of Peanut Butter Patties every year when Rob’s daughters were Girl Scouts.
As the years went on, Stan went from being one of several hosts of the classical Matinee on WBNI, filling in for others when there was a need, to eventually hosting six shifts a week. He still did five four-hour shifts a week even into his nineties. Colleen Condron spoke to how the service fueled Stan, “I think it kept him going for a long time. It kept him sharp. It kept him involved in the community.”
Those who shared the station with him always found it was easy to talk to Stan.
“The moments I spent listening to conversations he had with longtime WBOI Host Doug Gruber about radio and the community were some of the finest moments and civility I have ever known,” said Rob Martinez.
Suzon Motz, former Board Chair of 89.1 WBOI, used to go on-air with Stan during membership drives. “He had been several different places around the country and one of them was Birmingham, Alabama, which is a big steel center. And at the time, I had a son who was living in Tuscaloosa, so we would spend a lot of time comparing notes about our visits to Alabama.”
“Stan and I also got a kick out of spending time together as the ‘weekend & holiday warriors’ here at the station, most often being the only staff in-house that day, and totally enjoying our chance to do something this inclusive and meaningful for our community–as well as our own pleasure,” reflects Julia Meek.
“He was a volunteer and he wasn’t getting paid, but he just loved doing it,” Motz adds.
Stan’s dedication to WBNI wasn’t just obvious to staff and volunteers at 89.1 WBOI. Georgean Johnson-Coffey, the Manager of the Audio Reading Service, spoke about Stan’s shift reading the Journal Gazette live for two hours every Monday morning. The majority of those shifts, he read with Fran Headings. Their give and take while reading was so natural, that many listeners thought they were married. Stan always said, when Fran left, he would leave, and that’s what happened in August of 2017. Fran Headings passed away on Jan. 1, 2020.
Georgean Johnson-Coffey remembers Stan always missed one event. “Stan was so dedicated to WBNI that he never attended and Audio Reading Service Volunteer Recognition Luncheon, because it conflicted with his on-air classical music host responsibilities. I would say, ‘Stan, I’m pretty sure WBNI would give you one day off.’ Nope, he would hear none of it.”
WBOI’s Ben Clemmer shared his own memory from the two years he and Stan overlapped. “Jackie mentioned how Stan would say hello to everyone in the building. That included interns, which is what I started out as for WBOI in 2017. Walking towards the door of the WBNI studio, Stan would greet each section as he passed. After my internship, our new summer intern was Karli VanCleave, who is now a multimedia journalist at WPTA. She used the desk next to mine and so when Stan went by, he’d say hello to both of us. One day he did this, walked by and said, ‘hello Ben… hello Karli,’ but Karli wasn’t at the desk. This was when we had our NPR speaker event in 2017 and Sarah McCammon was in town. Sarah was facing the computer, kind of blocked from view, and she and Karli both have blonde hair, so I could see why Stan made the mistake. To this day, whenever I hear a story from Sarah McCammon or she’s hosting an NPR program, or whenever I see a local story from Karli, I think of Stan.”
“Everyone we spoke to had stories about how important the music was to Stan,” Julia continues. “When we spoke for Behind The Mic, he told me how he put shows together, and how music can impact a person.”
“I try to play something not more than once every six months. I just have a log of what I have played now over the years and it’s very simple to go back and say, well here’s something I haven’t played in about six months, we’ll play that… I think it can do a number of things. It can thrill you. It can pacify you. It can also calm your nerves if you’re upset about something. I think it does a lot of things for people. I really do.”
If listeners, staff, and other volunteers had favorite selections, Stan would reach out to make sure they got to hear them. Jackie Didier remembered one such interaction. “I know one day I came down here, and I said, ‘Stan, I love that song.’ And so every once in a while he would play it, and he would come down to my end of the building, and say, ‘Okay, be listening at 1 o’clock cause I’m going to play your song.”
When asked, Rob Martinez shared his memories of Stan, there were several stories worth sharing in their entirety. “On February 27, 2013, I had completed my work at the radio station and was getting ready to leave for the day. I scanned the Internet news one final time and discovered legendary classical pianist Van Cliburn had passed away at the age of 78. I printed off the news story and waited for Stan to come out of the studio. When I informed him of the death, a look came across his face I had never seen. He looked down at the news story, said ‘thank you, Rob,’ and immediately went back into the studio and waited for a selection of classical music to end. By now I had made my way into the parking lot to head home, and switched on the radio. Steady, but stern, Stan informed his radio listeners about the passing and even paused to honor the legendary pianist. The next time I saw him, he shook my hand, thanked me for the help with the story and said quietly, ‘he was one of my favorite piano players.’”
Our last few reflections will come from Rob, Stan, and Stan’s daughter, Kathy.
“We receive many new cast soundtracks from broadway shows at the radio station. I hoped there would be something Stan could play on his Friday nights when he played show tunes. Needless to say the albums of Kinky Boots or The Prom wouldn’t work. In 2018, it finally happened. I greeted Stan one day and gave him the Bette Midler version of “Hello Dolly.” He was like a kid at Christmas. It was one of the final new soundtracks he ever played on his show. When Stan retired that same year, we shook hands one final time. He thanked me for the kindness and friendship I had shown him. I shared one final joke that I cannot recall, but his remarkable laugh I will always remember. His memory will live on in eternity through his family, friends, his co-workers, and any piece of classical music you heard him play. Rest in peace, Stan,” said Rob Martinez.
“I never even dreamed that I would be doing it. Never would I have thought of it and I am so thrilled that it has happened, and that I can be able to do it. I just look forward to each day,” said Stan Whippo on WBOI’s Behind The Mic.
We’re grateful that Stan stayed tuned in until the end of his life, and like the audience he served, was a devoted listener. His daughter Kathy recalls, “he would sit in his little apartment and listen to the radio 24/7.”
About a decade ago, Stan recorded a message for listeners that read as follows, “I volunteer here at WBNI, because I am a longtime devoted listener to classical music, and the positive impact it makes upon the culture of any nation. I discovered shortly after moving to Fort Wayne, that Classical WBNI offered classical music to the community as part of its mission. I was therefore most pleased some 16 years ago when given the opportunity to host classical music on WBNI. I have been personally rewarded and hope the music I play adds to the enjoyment of the listeners, both those of the older generation and hopefully to younger listeners who may just have discovered the beauty of classical music.”