Joe Chithalen was a young beloved musician in Kingston. He encouraged everyone with an interest in music to perform. When he died unexpectedly on May 1st 1999, it took just hours for his friends to organize a bus to travel to his funeral.
One friend, the late Wally High, had also made the decision to follow through on a concept he and Joe had discussed often: finding a way to make sure everyone had a chance to learn to play an instrument.
Wally discussed the plan with local friends as well as with Joe’s parents, and immediately began to follow through. By June of 1999 he was planning the first “benefit day” to fundraise for a scholarship and a lending library of musical instruments. By July, he had feelers out to many of the bands Joe had performed with, working to organize a benefit concert.
During the same summer, Wally searched for a location for this “lending library.” He eventually found Frank Lockington of St. Lawrence College. Soon they were storing and cataloguing Joe’s large personal collection of musical instruments at the college.
Sarah Harmer, Luther Wright, and Tom Wilson headlined the first “JoeShow” concert, held at Lake Ontario Park on September 19th, 1999. Joe’s parents had also established a Fund with the Kingston and Area Community Foundation.
Never one to settle for half-measures, Wally High was still looking at waterfront property for a free-standing Joe Chithalen Lending Library by the time of the first “JoeShow,” held in February 2000.
Wally’s networking quickly led him to the former Robert Meek School as a temporary location for the library. Then, in October 2001, the first instrument loans were made from the basement of the Robert Meek building. Our first librarian was local musician Mariko (“Muddy”) Ohtake.
The Board of Directors met for the first time on November 2nd, 2001, with Wally High and Rob Doak as co-chairmen. With the assistance of Kingston lawyer David Hurley, an initiative to establish charitable status for the M.I.L.L. began immediately.
A “Grand Opening” of the Library was held on Sunday April 28th 2002 and featured new musicians who had borrowed instruments from the library.
On June 30th, 2004 (June Chithalen’s birthday), government approval was secured for the name “The Joe Chithalen Memorial Musical Instrument Lending Library.” The Letters of Patent for Joe’s M.I.L.L. were approved by the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services, Ontario, on September 17th, 2004 (Eleanor Chithalen’s birthday).
Joe’s M.I.L.L. was designated as a charitable foundation and registered on May 5th, 2006. The “AJoeShow” logo, along with the “outline sketch of a brimmed hat lying on the sound box of a guitar,” were trademarked on March 31st, 2010.
In its early days, Joe’s M.I.L.L. benefitted from the skills of librarians Bindu Joseph and Alan Wong, and then lucked out with the arrival of Renaissance man Roger Eccleston. Today, Tim Aylesworth holds the title.
But the success of the Library is due in large part to the dedicated and hard-working members on the Board of Directors.
Joe would be honoured to know how much time, inspiration and effort have been dedicated to the institution which bears his name.