Keesler heritage: Wylie Auditorium

  • Published
  • By Steve Pivnick
  • 81st Medical Group Public Affairs
It's been used for a myriad of purposes, from training Keesler Medical Center's medical and dental residents to processing deploying "Dragon Medics," plus numerous ceremonies and the 81st Medical Group's annual children's Christmas party.

The Donald H. Wylie Auditorium has been a center of activity for Keesler Air Force Base's medical community since it was completed in 1981.

The auditorium was named in Don Wylie's honor during a March 17, 2003, ceremony attended by members of his family and a multitude of local civic and military leaders. Diagnosed with cancer in 1995, he passed away in May 2003, two months after the auditorium dedication.

Wylie was a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., but was a part of Keesler history since 1952 when he was stationed here as the noncommissioned officer in charge of classification and assignments for the training wing. After 12 ½ years on active-duty service and three years of Reserve duty, Wylie held management positions with the chambers of commerce in Greenville and Cleveland, Miss. He returned in 1975 to head the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce.

From 1986 to 1991, he organized and operated Keesler Medical Center's first public affairs directorate. In 1991, Wylie was hired as Keesler's first civilian public affairs director, managing the base's internal information, community relations and media programs until his December 1996 retirement.

He was the first civilian recipient of the Keesler Medallion and received the Spirit of Keesler and Keesler Angel Awards. In addition, Wylie was named the state Air Force Association Man of the Year and lauded for his outstanding contributions to tourism.

In an interview shortly before his retirement, Wylie recalled his battle with alcoholism that led to his dismissal from a position with a local bank and his subsequent rehabilitation.

"The Air Force saved me twice," he said. "When I was 19, the Air Force gave me direction and a sense of purpose. In 1986, the Air Force saved me again by giving me a chance to get my career back on track."

(Susan Griggs, 81st Training Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this article.)