Joey Wilgenbusch was a man that had such great effect on this world that his native Iowa State Music department, along with his family, decided it was high time to honor his memory in the truest form: a memorial gala dedicated to his life and passion.
Joey was a 2005 Iowa State grad (his parents and sibling also graduated from ISU) in Vocal Performance. Acting as well as singing, Joseph loved to be on stage, performing in several community productions in Ames while he was in school and continuing to do so in his professional career. After obtaining his Master of Music at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, he performed in various contests in Maine, and even went on to be a finalist in the Lotte Lenya Competition. Church choirs and performance groups in and around NYC were also graced with his talent.
Wilgenbusch was born with a congenital heart defect that impacted his life until it eventually ended it in his untimely December 2011 death. After dealing with two heart surgeries as a child, his condition led to a heart attack the day after Christmas last year.
Joey’s memorial gala was hosted in a full-house, nearly 2-hour presentation of the university’s exquisitely talented music department as its alumni, students and faculty performed ensembles, solos, opera, and even sang with world-renowned baritone Dr. Simon Estes. With pieces ranging from “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D. 965” to “Some Other Time (On the Town)”, the Martha-Ellen Tye Recital Hall—located in ISU’s Music Hall—was filled with echoing reverberations of high notes and deep octaves.
Dr. Jonathan Sturm, Professor of Music at Iowa State, was one of the many people on stage who personally knew Joey. “He was a student in my Music History class, as well as 95% of the other wonderful vocalists on stage with me today,” Sturm said. “Joey was gentle, caring, intelligent, hardworking, and one of the students I most hoped to connect with through my class topics.”
After an introduction by Scott Siepker, Emcee; Donald Simpson, Voice Division Chair’ and Jonathan Wickert, Senior Vice President and Provost, Joey’s sister Laura Helly spoke about Joey’s life and how he so greatly affected everyone he met. Included in the pamphlets were Joey’s Rules to Live By, a short list of reasons why “he was such a nice person,” as Helly put it. An endowment scholarship was announced in Joey’s name, and donations were accepted to help fund it.
After various songs performed by students, faculty and alumni, an intermission took place halfway through the show. Miles Morgan, 31, a graduate with a BA in Vocal Music, was in the audience and reminisced about his times with Joey. “We had choir together, and I loved performing with him in Rubigore. He was a good guy; I’m glad to have known him,” Morgan said.
15 minutes later, the vocalists and pianists were right back at it again, singing classic opera and music that Joey loved/performed. Near the end of the show, Simon Estes joined the group to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone (Carousel)”, as well as the “Bells of Iowa State”.
But the show didn’t come to a close before one last special presentation. After Estes and the ensemble gave their final notes, a projection screen was lowered and a movie was shown that showcased Joey’s life in pictures and video, all while footage and audio of him singing in church played in the background. Tears ran down many audience members’ faces as they remembered their times with Joey.
“This was performed by so many alumni who knew and loved Joey,” said Dr. Sturm. “He and they have made me more proud to be at ISU than almost anything.”