With branches reaching from America to Germany, Chile to Slovakia, the Wilhelmy family tree is truly international. However, if there’s one thing that binds its members across geography—besides deep familial love, of course—it’s Ohio Valley Voices. Not only have three Wilhelmy children attended the program, but an extended relative has served on its staff. OVV has shaped the Wilhelmys, and in turn the Wilhelmys have had an extraordinary impact on OVV.
“OVV has been life-altering for our family,” Martin Wilhelmy explains. “While there still are challenges every day, these are mostly minor. Without the OVV experience, we‘d have to focus so much more on basic communication. The kids‘ accomplishments wouldn‘t be what they are today.”
Martin was born in Wisconsin to German-born, Chilean-raised parents. During his adolescence, the family moved to Norway and Germany before eventually settling in Loveland, Ohio in 1985. Martin then attended the University of Cincinnati, where he majored in civil engineering, and took a job in Detroit. It was there that he met Dagmar, who had emigrated to the US from Slovakia with a pharmacy degree. The couple married in 1999. After a brief stint in Europe, Martin and Dagmar returned to Cincinnati in 2002 to raise a family. Their second daughter, Cecilia, was born in the fall of that year.
As a child, Cecilia didn’t speak as much as her hearing peers. Following years of inconclusive tests, she was finally diagnosed hearing impaired at the age of three—late for a child born hard of hearing. Devastated by the news and uncertain where to turn, Martin and Dagmar first learned of OVV through Martin’s mother, Mary, who had read about the then-fledgling program in Eastern Hills Journal. They met with Maria at Ohio Valley Voices’ Blue Ash location and agreed that it was a good fit for young Cecilia.
Despite this glimmer of hope, though, the family’s situation remained precarious. “With graduate school debts, uncertain income, and three children in the household, a private school tuition seemed beyond daunting,” Martin admits. And yet, Maria and the OVV team were determined to not let financial concerns prevent Cecilia from receiving the critical intervention she needed.
“They rallied resources and helped us string together a package of financial aid, outside grants, and scholarships for Cecilia,” Martin recalls. “A miracle was forming for Cecilia who hadn‘t been fitted with hearing aids until the age of three and did not know how to speak.”
Just as Cecilia’s future began to look brighter, Martin and Dagmar’s third child, Philip, was also diagnosed with moderate-to-severe hearing loss. Once again, OVV’s financial assistance program came to the rescue, guaranteeing Philip a spot in the Family Center. Following in his sister’s footsteps, Philip entered Ohio Valley Voices at twenty-one months. The brother and sister were now on track to becoming competent communicators.
Meanwhile, to help redress the economic burden of providing their children with oral education, Martin and Dagmar sued Cincinnati Public Schools. “We had received very limited support from the Cincinnati Public School District,” Martin elaborates. “The CPS in-house program for hearing impaired children wasn’t appropriate for Cecilia or Philip since both had strong potential for speaking verbally and we didn‘t want them to permanently rely on lip reading and sign language.”
Simply put, the Wilhelmys believed all children born deaf and hearing impaired had a right to learn to listen and speak. With the help of Tom Collin, an attorney and OVV parent, they won the case. CPS was legally bound to pay the family’s tuition and legal fees—a hard-won but significant victory.
By the time Martin and Dagmar’s fourth child, Juliana, was diagnosed hearing impaired in 2010, the family’s situation had improved and the state’s Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship was well-established. With these advantages, Juliana enrolled in OVV just like her brother and sister.
Before long another member of the Wilhelmy clan, Martina Guarello, had an encounter with Ohio Valley Voices that would forever change her life. The niece of Martin’s father Viktor, Martina grew up in Chile. During a summer visit to the United States, she attended Cecilia and Philip’s graduation at OVV and was so moved by the ceremony that she decided to pursue a career in Speech-Language Pathology and eventually took a position at OVV.
“It was certainly neat to see Martina so inspired, and it was fun to have a cousin from far away come to work at the school,” Martin remarks. “We were happy to help her get situated in a new country and a new city.” (You can learn more about Martina’s remarkable OVV journey in this month’s Staff Spotlight.)
For Cecilia, Philip, and Juliana, OVV provided the communication skills and confidence necessary to succeed in school and beyond. Upon graduating, Cecilia and Philip mainstreamed into Good Shepherd Catholic Montessori and Summit Country Day while Juliana entered St. Edmund Campion in Fairfax.
Individually, all three children have distinguished themselves as hard workers with eclectic talents and hobbies. A gifted artist, Cecilia has chosen to study architecture at Instituto de Empresa in Segovia, Spain. (You can read about Cecilia and her decision to study in Spain in our May Student Spotlight.) Now in his Junior Year at Summit, Philip excels in his coursework, loves soccer, and helps with home improvement projects. On the brink of sixth grade, Juliana enjoys math and cooking.
Martin and Dagmar take pride in the fact that all four of their children, including their eldest daughter Victoria, are close. “This can be attributed to doing shared chores around the house, attending Mass every Sunday morning, and having lunch every Sunday afternoon with their grandparents,” Martin observes. Annual summer vacations, including frequent trips to Slovakia to visit Dagmar’s family, were also a major factor in bonding the siblings and forging lasting memories.
Just as the Wilhelmy children have grown to become accomplished young people, Martin has seen his business career blossom. As a partner at the Frank Wilhelmy Hearn Wealth Consulting Group, he has donated considerable time and resources to OVV to keep its doors open and ensure that all kids, even those from disadvantaged backgrounds, have access to superior early intervention therapy.
For Martin, the equation is simple. “Our family has felt the urge to give back to OVV, which performs miracles on a daily basis. These miracles change children’s entire lives.” Cecilia, Philip, and Juliana are living proof of that fact.