Let's capture some of why we loved Wilke so much. As one friend of his put it:

"...write up an anecdote – some story where they watched Wilke build up into righteous anger when reporting a story... or ironing out a crease in the fabric of the Journal bureau... And someone should talk about him tearing up when he described taking his kid to college…..Or when he became nearly inconsolable when the anthrax story came back and cost him two fantastic seats at the Nats-Mets game. Describe a time he filled in for people, picked up their loads for them, counseled them, slipped them incredible sources, shared bylines... that will keep him alive and you (and the rest of us) afloat."

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College friends

I knew John Wilke at New College of Florida, back in the late 1970s right after private New College had merged with the University of South Florida to keep from going under. You had to have faith in New College then, faith that it would survive long enough to graduate. Students like Wilke or Nancy were the New College public ivy generation, and their willingness to hang in there kept New College going. Wilke's long career brought honor to New College, and we alums are rightly proud of him.

I parted ways with Wilke when I moved to Alaska and he went on to became, well, Wilke. I lost track of him and then one day his byline popped up in a Google News alert for a story he wrote for the Wall Street Journal on Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska. He broke a story on Young that no one in the Alaska press had caught. I e-mailed him and we reconnected. We shared gossip about Young, Sen. Ted Stevens, Sarah Palin and other Alaska political figures. In a New College alum newsletter about Wilke, he called Young and Stevens "utterly shameless."

The last e-mail I wrote him was after Alaskans voted Stevens out of office -- it was close -- and I told him Alaska hadn't re-elected a convicted felon after all. "At least we still have Young," Wilke wrote back.

That Wilke built a solid marriage with Nancy is a testament to his character. Not a lot of New College romances survived graduation, and of those that did and became marriages, hardly any have lasted as long as Nancy and John's. New College teaches you a lot about about love and not much about commitment. They obviously learned something.

It is one of the great joys of college to see your friends grow old, do wonderful things, and bring beautiful children into the world. Another joy is to reconnect with people you have known. I'm glad I got to know Wilke again, and I regret I didn't do that sooner. To Nancy and his children, my heart goes out to you, and may the love of friends, family, and colleagues ease your grief, and may their memories keep Wilke alive in your soul.

Michael Armstrong
Homer, Alaska
New College 1974-77
wordfolk at

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