Uncle Wilber’s Legacy
“Uncle Wilber, when are you coming out?” It’s a bright, beautiful summer day at the top of the hour, and a palpable sense of expectation is in the air around the Uncle Wilber Fountain at the corner of Tejon and Kiowa Streets. Kids have been playing in the fountain all afternoon, but now they have paused. As if in answer to the question, a clarion call of a loud tuba blast sends some girls shrieking. “Here he comes! He’s coming!” A few more loud blasts. Dozing adults awaken as the children’s excitement builds.
The dome of the fountain starts to rise, and jazz music begins. Some of the kids start to dance, and a few still talk to him like he’s right there. One girl asks, “Are you going to play for us, Uncle Wilber?” A few brave souls run up and try to touch the dome as it soars above them. As Wilber’s face appears, kids squeal in delight, because they know the show has just begun.
Some people have asked if Uncle Wilber is a real person. Kids certainly talk to him like he is, and when the fountain starts its show and the rest of Wilber’s likeness appears above it, they go wild, screaming and laughing as random squirts of water from Wilber’s tuba spray everywhere. Yes, Wilber Fulker was a real person. He went to my church, and I knew him as a really nice retired guy who helped people build birdhouses as a form of therapy. He wasn’t the kind of guy who thrived on attention, but people gravitated toward his kind, generous nature.
Although the fountain was not built in Wilber’s memory (it was built in 2001 and he passed away in 2011), it was, in a way, inspired by him. The fountain’s artists, Bob and Kat Tudor, had thought about adding an interactive fountain to downtown Colorado Springs for a few years, and thanks to legislation at the time, the fountain ended up in Acacia Park. Bob thought the tuba player sort of looked like his Uncle Wilber, so the idea to name it the Uncle Wilber Fountain was born.
See, Uncle Wilber was a tuba player. Born in Monument, Colorado in 1918, he became interested in playing the tuba when he was a teenager. After playing in high school he played in a dance band, then with the Colorado College band when he was a student there. Later, he played in the faculty band of the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. He spent 18 years as Principal of the Blind School, but when he retired, he left tuba playing behind, picking it back up for Tuba Christmas in 1999 when he was 81. He stayed active until his death at age 93, and he spent a decade watching kids as they played in his fountain.
Those kids may not know what a legacy Uncle Wilber left behind. He was an amateur inventor, creating all sorts of things from junk before “repurposing” was even a thing. He also invented a baseball that beeped, so blind kids could have sound to focus on when batting. He also taught piano to blind kids. He was an active member of the First Congregational Church, lending his creativity and problem-solving skills to anyone who needed help making or building something. He loved kids, and he loved helping people and seeing his ideas come to life.
Rumor has it that the fountain poses a riddle, and only the most intrepid of sleuths can learn its answer. Most kids don’t go to the fountain for the riddle, though. For most it’s just a fun, free way to while away a few hours on a warm afternoon. The fountain has had its share of problems; the upkeep on it can get expensive. But, donations help to keep the fountain going for the hundreds of kids who enjoy it each summer. Learn more about the fountain and how to donate for its maintenance at http://unclewilberfountain.org/.
I’m sure Uncle Wilber still watches those kids play in his fountain. I’m sure, if he could, he would answer that little girl right out loud, “Yes, Sweetie, I’m going to play for you.” Because every afternoon at the top of the hour, he does, and the joy and laughter he inspires live on.