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Former IASB President George Wirth Passes Away
June 30, 2014

Former IASB Past President George H. Wirth, of New Athens, Illinois, passed away on Tuesday, Jun. 24, 2014, at the New Athens Home for the Aged. He was 90 years old.

Wirth served on the New Athens High School Board of Education from 1951 to 1954, and then on the New Athens Community Unit School District board from 1954 to 1976, holding the position of board president for a number of years. He served two years as IASB President, from 1970 to 1971, and later as Secretary-Treasurer for the National School Boards Association, from 1974 to 1976.

At the time of his death, Wirth was the oldest living IASB past president.

Wirth’s time as Association president saw Illinois voters approve a new state constitution that included an article calling for the creation of a state board of education. He was a highly respected figure in the education community, with numerous individuals seeking his advice and guidance.  

“George Wirth epitomized the best in school board governance,” said former IASB Executive Director Hal Seamon. “He provided visionary and inspirational leadership for his local school board, the Illinois Association of School Boards, and the National School Boards Association.

“Above all, he was a true gentleman in the best sense of the word. It was a privilege to have worked with him.”

During his time on the local school board, Wirth credited his success to always keeping an open mind, constantly looking to improve, and learning from the successful experiences of his predecessors.  

When asked what the greatest challenge he faced as a newly elected school board member, Wirth cited the combining of the elementary and high school districts to form one community unit district. He said the board succeeded in this endeavor because of “hard work, visiting every voter in the underlying districts, and explaining to them the advantages of the unit district.”

That philosophy guided George Wirth displayed throughout his life, and he often noted that “listening” is the most important skill to becoming an effective school board member.

Wirth was also successful in his professional careers.   He began work at the Autocrat Corporation in 1945 and retired as president in 1982. He served as first vice president for Peerless Enamel Products, Inc. from 1966 to 2000, while at the same time acting as CEO for G. Wirth Corporation from 1982 until retiring in 2000. From 1986 until 2000 he also worked as a free-lance photographer.

“It is hard to define in words the man named George Wirth,” said longtime friend and IASB Assistant to the Executive Director Pat Culler. “He was larger than life. He was a leader not only in his professional pursuits, but in every endeavor in which he was involved. The children of his community and this state will continue to benefit from his life-long interest and dedication to them.”

“For all his accomplishments, George remained a common man who delighted in visiting and getting to know people wherever he was. I deem myself fortunate to call him a friend and mentor,” Culler added.  

In addition to his school board service, George served in a number of other community organizations. He was elected to the board of directors for the Central Midwestern Regional Educational Laboratory, Inc. (CEMREL) from 1966 to 1976, and served as vice chairman of the executive committee from 1973 to 1975. He was a past president of the New Athens Rotary Club, served on the Belleville Area College 1966 Class I proposition steering committee, was co-chairman of the college’s 1968 bond issue campaign, and chaired the 1974 Governor’s Education Task Force.

George also stayed involved with his local church, St. John United Church of Christ, up until his death. He had previously served on the New Athens Church Council, as well as United Church of Christ Moderator at the Illinois South Conference from 1972 to 1973.

Born in Belleville on Aug. 18, 1923, to George P. Jr. and Ada Wirth, he was an only child.   He and his wife of 63 years, Martha (Jelliffee) have three children: Steven P. Wirth, Eric C. Wirth, and Laurie (Richard) Melliand, and one grandchild, Martina Melliand. All survive.

Wirth was a 1941 graduate of New Athens Community High School, and later received his B.S. from the University of Illinois. He also served as an aviator in the United States Naval Reserves from 1942 to 1945.

Memorials may be made to the New Athens Home for the Aged. A public memorial service will be held at a later date. Please check for more information as it becomes available.

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