Loss inspires Ortega to help veterans and music students

Six years ago, O’Fallon REALTOR® Beth Ortega began a meaningful endeavor when she became president of the John Wilt Foundation, and it has led to so much more.

The foundation was created to honor the life of Marine 1st Lt. John Wilt of O’Fallon, who lost his life in 2002 during a training flight over the Gulf of Mexico at the age of 22. A 2000 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Wilt had become friends with Ortega many years earlier through the school district’s band program. In 2010, she would find great purpose in the foundation, raising money that would be used for the O’Fallon Veterans Monument, $1,500 annual scholarship to a graduating O’Fallon Township High School student, and donations to the St. Louis Fisher House and the St. Louis USO (United Service Organizations).

Ortega, a broker for the Beth Ortega Group at RE/MAX Preferred, says, “I lost my best friend, 1st Lt. John N. Wilt, during his service in the Marine Corps. He set an incredible example of service above self during his life. All that I do, the volunteering, the service, in every organization, is to honor John. I work hard to live my life to the fullest, giving as much as I can at all times. I try my best to continue the level of giving and volunteer work John would be doing if he were here.”

Not only does she lead the John Wilt Foundation, she is vice president of Lifelong Music in O’Fallon Schools, volunteers for the Semper Fi Society, Toys for Tots, Shriners, O’Fallon Band Boosters, O’Fallon Veterans Monument and is a Financial Literacy Teacher (MoneySmart).

“My love for him has led me to so many amazing opportunities and adventures, during his life and in every day that comes after,” she says. “Now through the connections of his service to our military, Gold Star Mothers, USO, and the Semper Fi Society, I have been able to give back to all those that serve and have served.”

Ortega takes pride in creating the Lifelong Music program in O’Fallon schools in 2013. She says, “Music was also a great influence in our lives, so supporting and working to continue the music programs in O’Fallon schools was not just an important part of the local community academic program, but also a very personal part of my story. The ability to keep that program going after massive state funding cuts has been a huge effort by just a few hard working volunteers. If I am given the opportunity to be of service, I make sure I find some way to make it happen.”

Memorable experiences

In 2011, the Wilt Foundation was chosen to host the 5k race for Marine Week in St. Louis, she says. “We were able to make an incredible experience for Marines visiting from all over the country and for the local Gold Star Mothers organization. These parents, whose grown children gave the ultimate sacrifice for service to our country, were able to spend the morning beside 1,000 grateful servicemen and civilians. Some even experienced the feeling of running with a Marine Corps formation chanting cadences.

“Through this connection, my husband Jeff and I were able to host the Gold Star Parents for some VIP treatment for the entire week of activities: front row seats for the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon; a suite at a Cardinals game with a few local celebrities; a formal dinner honoring their Marine’s sacrifice; and many other amazing events.

“Our foundation continues to host a local 5k in O’Fallon each year in early October, starting and ending at the local veterans’ monument. We have expanded the race from just a few of John’s friends and family, to being a great community event with many servicemen and women participating alongside civilians. My husband, who also had served in the Marine Corps, starts the run carrying John’s personal Marine Corps flag for a moment of silence at the start of each race. It is an incredible gift being able to donate over $10,000 to the USO, Fisher House, and a local scholarship, all done in John’s name.”

Ortega is a member of the REALTORS Association of Southwestern Illinois (RASI).

Watch the Illinois REALTORS® blog for weekly stories about the community involvement of Illinois REALTORS® during IAR’s 100th Anniversary year. If you have an idea for a REALTOR® to highlight with an article, please send it to bkozar@illinoisrealtors.org. To read stories like this, go to: http://www.illinoisrealtor.org/membermonday  #MemberMonday

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