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Brice Joseph Wilkinson III born on born May 30th, 1934 in Greeley, Colorado, a son to the late Brice and Esther (O’Conner) Wilkinson. Brice died peacefully at his home, in Winona, Minnesota, on July 20, 2019. He was 85 years old.
He leaves his wife of 40 years and best friend, Bahieh (Habibi) Wilkinson; his son Theodore Wilkinson of Haverhill, Massachusetts; his daughter Angie (Wilkinson) Austin & her husband Mark of Denver, Colorado; his son Roy Wilkinson of Bellingham, Washington; grandchildren Garrett, Kayli, Levi, Riley, Hope & Faith; his dear friends who have become family, Keith Polus and Joey Storovich who were like sons to him; and his darlings Lisa Janke Bush, Pilar Hartshorn and Pilar’s three girls Bahieh, Marisol, and Rosita. Brice also leaves behind, Homer the Wonder Cat, his constant companion and by far, his furriest friend.
Brice also leaves behind his sister Della Starbird and brother, Ben Wilkinson. He was preceded in death by his son Brice Joseph Wilkinson IV and his sisters, Pam Mazzio, Vida Hunnewell and Eileen Potvin.
Brice has been a notable and noticeable figure in Winona for almost 50 years. Many remember the retired professor driving around town in his red convertible, with his long white beard and long white hair, held back with his signature headband. His voice was long recognized from his decades as the sports announcer at Winona State University. He often came up with nicknames for each player and made the games eventful and fun for the entire crowd. He was a character.
We’d like to celebrate Brice and tell you a little more about him. After a difficult start in life, Brice and his siblings helped raise each other. Brice was born in Colorado, but spent much of his childhood in Maine. When his parents divorced, he moved back to Colorado to live with his grandmother, Nellie Angell to finish high school. He felt indebted to her, for her tough hand in raising him and later named his only daughter, Angela, after his grandmother Angell. Angel means messenger of God, and he thought it would be a wonderful way to honor his grandmother.
Brice always excelled academically and at sports. He started wrestling in high school and was a top notch wrestler in high school and college. After high school, and prior to college Brice did a stint in the Air Force. He was stationed in Japan as a Morse code radio operator. While in Japan, Brice heard some loud yelling in a Judo studio and took a peek inside. He was instantly interested in mastering the art of Judo, a Japnese art that means “the gentle way”, because it relies on the force of your opponent. Once again, he became the best of the best at another sport, eventually earning his 8th degree black belt in Judo, one of the highest levels in the sport. He went on to teach Judo for many years.
After 2 years in Japan, Brice came home to attend the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech and Law. He went on to earn his PH.D in Communication Theory from the University of Oregon.
Brice married his first wife Shirley in 1960 and they had 4 children, Brice IV, Theodore, Angela and Roy. They divorced in 1979.
Brice taught at a number of Universities before accepting his favorite position, as a professor in the Communication and Theater Arts Department at Winona State University in 1971. He thoroughly enjoyed teaching at Winona State for 27 years.
Brice met his second wife, Bahieh while she was studying at Winona State. They married in 1979 and were inseparable. Daughter, Angie, describes them as soulmates and best friends. She says, “No one could have loved my dad more or taken better care of him than Bahieh. I’m forever grateful they found each other. They truly were a match made in heaven. She brought so much joy to my dad’s life. My dad once said, when he met Bahieh, it was indeed love at first sight.”
He retired from Winona State in 1998, but continued to teach tai chi almost up until the day he died. He called himself a tai chi evangelist, because the practice of tai chi brought so much peace, harmony, strength and joy to his life.
Brice is known for a few other endeavors. He started a dinner theater in Winona in the 1970s and established an intertribal powwow. He first started presenting at the Minnesota Indian Education Associate about 35 years ago. The powwow in Winona is something Brice was very proud of being involved with.
As far as Brice’s family and their perceptions of him, Brice’s daughter describes him as the most disciplined man she’s ever met with a quick wit and brilliant sense of humor. She credits her father with passing on his public speaking skills which she in turn used in her career in television news and radio. She says, “My dad wasn’t embarrassed to talk about his struggles with alcohol. He got sober in 1980 and I am proud of the man he became. He overcame a lot in his life and became a role model for my children in his later years.” Angela fondly recalls her dad’s sense of humor and how he was making her laugh right up until the end. She says, “Forgiveness played a big part in our relationship. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing.”
Brice’s 3 youngest grandchildren were asked to describe Brice in a few words. Here is Riley, Hope and Faith’s description of their Grandpa Brice:
Grampa is extraordinary, special, wise, strongest man I know, fearless, kind, giving, a fighter, likes to teach people, likes to play Texas hold ‘em, loves his cat, Homer, is good at chess (Riley wants it noted that he beat grandpa once at chess), he loves Grandma B a lot and he’s a tai chi master who is also very funny. They loved their Grampa B, and will miss him very much. They are looking forward to the day when Grampa will play chess with them in heaven, because Riley says he wants to beat Gramps one more time.
Brice’s beloved wife Bahieh describes her life with Brice as an adventure. They have done Tai Chi together every day for over 40 years. Bahieh is also a black belt in Judo, so they had a shared love for martial arts and a shared adoration for each other. While Brice described their first meeting as love at first sight, Bahieh says her love for Brice started out more as “more about energy connection, a meeting of the mind.” She adds, “He was a poet, a joker and everything in between. He had the sharpest mind.” Brice and Bahieh were blessed to have lived a real life love story together.
Brice may be best remembered in Winona, for his booming voice at the Winona State University and local high school sporting events, the thousands of classes he taught as a professor at WSU, or for Tai Chi he taught on the green lawns of the Winona State campus. Brice did Tai Chi every single day for over 40 years and was practicing right up until the day he was admitted to the hospital.
Everyday Brice lived life to the fullest. His family will remember his as a positive and encouraging force in their lives, whose presence will be greatly missed.
Brice requested no funeral. A celebration of life will be held at a future date.
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