Wilson, 81, was best known as the leader of the Scottville Clown Band.
“This is going to be a huge loss for the Scottville Clown Band,” said Jim Frost, president of the Scottville Clown Band. “He was one of the only remaining icons of the band. We put him up there with the stature of our founder, Ray Schulte, who died in 2007. Those two gentlemen made the band the success it is today."
Wilson's son, George C. Wilson, said his father's favorite parades included the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival Grand Parade. The Clown Band has played in the Coast Guard Festival Parade since 1950 and is traditionally the final entry.
“George loved the band,” Frost said. “Even two weeks ago he was in full costume as the band played at the Ludington Eagles. Last year, he marched the three blocks in downtown Ludington during the Freedom Festival parade and it brought tears to my eyes. George had no desire to let go of the band. The Scottville Clown Band meant everything to him. It was his life blood.”
Wilson moved to Mason County from Detroit when he was 14, during the Great Depression. His parents divorced when he was 4. His mother was unable to raise George and his younger sister, so they lived with various relatives in Detroit for 10 years.
When Wilson was 14, he was sent to live with his uncle in Fountain, north of Scottville. In his newspaper column, Wilson always referred to the uncle as his “drinking uncle.” That arrangement didn't last long and he soon made his way to Scottville, where he was adopted by the town.
Throughout high school, Wilson lived with different families and took on odd jobs. At 16, he was recruited to become the street leader and announcer of the newly reorganized Scottville Clown Band. He continued in that role continuously until about 10 years ago when he started to share the duties with his son, George C. Wilson.
The Scottville Clown Band's roots go back to 1903 when a group of musically inclined merchants formed a band to play for various town functions. The group decided to dress in hobo costumes and called themselves the Scottville Merchants' Band. It primarily played for what became the Scottville Harvest Festival, a tradition that continued until World War II. The war caused a lot of regular activities to cease, including the festival and therefore the band.
In 1947, Scottville merchant Ray Schulte decided to start the band up again. Ray's dad, Burt, was a founding member and Ray had played with it before the war. This time, the group would be called the Scottville Clown Band.
One of the members of the band was Arnold O. Carlson, legendary superintendent/principal of Scottville High School. Legend has it Ray asked Carlson if he knew of any kid who could lead the band. Right away, Carlson recommended George Wilson.
“George always liked to be out front,” said high school classmate Lois Scott of Ludington. “In high school plays, if he didn't have the lead, he would always find some way to become the star, even if it meant changing the entire play around. He wanted the laughs and the spotlight. He was a natural entertainer.”
At 16, Wilson picked up the plunger and led the small group of musicians down the street. Over the years, the band grew to its present day 250-plus.
After high school, Wilson joined the Air Force and served his time in Oklahoma, where he met his wife, Mary. He returned to Scottville in 1952 and started to work various jobs, including sports writing for the Ludington Daily News.
In 1959, Wilson was hired at WKLA Radio in Ludington for what he called a “half and half” man — selling advertising in Scottville in the morning and on the air in the afternoon. In 1966, he became the station's program director. He left WKLA in 1971 and worked for the Ludington Daily News as its advertising manager until 1985. He then started his morning show on WKLA until he retired two years ago.
George and Mary Wilson had six children — Mary, Patrick, Theresa, Kelly, George C. and Harvey.
Wilson was Scottville's first recreation director. He served many years on the Mason County Central school board. He also served as a Scottville city commissioner and as mayor.
— By Rob Alway, MasonCountyPress.com