Waneila Chloe (Fisher) Halbritter, 90, passed away peacefully at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital on Oct. 11, 2022, in the presence of her family. She was born in Tunnelton, on Dec. 13, 1931, the daughter of the late Joseph Fisher and Vishta Chloe (Zinn) Fisher. She is survived by her brother, Joseph Melvin Fisher, of Elizabethtown, Pa. She was preceded in death by one brother, Daniel Fisher, who died as an infant, and her husband, Judge Robert Carl Halbritter, who passed just three months before her. Over the course of her impressive 90 years, Waneila built a lasting legacy as an educator, musician, pillar of the community and role model by demonstrating that women can do it all.
Waneila was raised in Tunnelton in the same house in which she was born and received her secondaryeducation in the Tunnelton School System. At the insistence of a teacher who was confident in Waneila’s talents and gifted abilities, she attended Fairmont State College, where she was a member of Gamma Chi Chi and graduated cum laude in 1953 with a major in music education and a minor in English.
Following graduation, she taught music and English in Fairview and Tunnelton; from time-to-time she also taught piano. While working in education, she earned her master’s degree in education, plus 45 hours from West Virginia University. One of Waneila’s professional goals was to make lives better for all students and teachers in Preston County. She worked a variety of leadership roles with the central staff of the Preston County Board of Education including director of music, coordinator of staff development, director of guidance and counseling, coordinator of state county testing and public relations, director of special education/student support services and director of Title I services.
Often referred to as a visionary, her inspirational leadership drove innovations in the areas of counseling, guidance, clinical services for teens, scholarships and special education. Among her accomplishments while serving Preston County students and teachers were starting the first counseling and guidance program; creating the Title I and II programs; supervising the school nurses; supervising the arts program, where she brought people with varying artistic abilities to share their talents with students, including an artist in residence, a steel band and multiple musicians from the WVU College of Creative Arts; and working with Valley Mental Health and the Department of Human Services to provide support for special needs students. In recognition of some of her talents, she was named state special education director in 1980.
Waneila was well known as a vocalist. She was the soloist for three years in the Fairmont State College Choir and also sang on weekends at a local Presbyterian church. Throughout her life, she sang at numerous public events: in church, frequently at weddings and in county Christmas choruses. For several years, she sang in a women’s barbershop quartet and at the annual buckwheat pageant where King Buckwheat and Queen Ceres of the Preston County Buckwheat Festival were chosen. One of her greatest joys was playing the piano and singing carols with her family during the holidays.
Waneila prioritized time for public service in civic and educational organizations. She established a Sheltered Workshop in Preston County for handicapped students in 1983-84; served on the Buckwheat Festival Steering Committee for many years; served as general chairman of the Preston County Buckwheat Festival in 1992; was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, Beta Sigma Phi, Delta Kappa Gamma, the Progressive Homemakers Club and the Preston County Arts Council; for 25 years coordinated the annual pageant for the selection of Queen Ceres of the Preston County Buckwheat Festival; and sponsored exchange students from Sweden and Brazil.
In 1954, Waneila married the love of her life and moved to Kingwood where she lived for the next 65 years but for a brief stint in West Point, New York. Life as the spouse of a judge is not easy, but she handled it with grace. She was extraordinarily devoted to her husband, especially in his later years when he needed near-constant care. From 1958-1967 she took time away from her career to focus on laying the foundation for what would be her greatest generational gift: raising her three sons into empathetic, bright men. Through her life, Waneila showed that roles like wife and mother need not be to the exclusion of career ambitions and community service. Most importantly, this lesson was imprinted on her children. Her three sons went on to marry incredibly strong partners and they have raised their own empathetic and brilliant children, who all know women can do it all because she let them see it firsthand.
In addition to being a musician, educator, active community member, wife, mother and grandmother, she also created space for her passions. She had a green thumb when it came to flowers, a gift for floral arrangements and an eye for creating impressive, elegant Christmas displays, especially her collection of nut crackers. She was an avid WVU Mountaineer sports fan, seldom missing a basketball or football game on the radio or TV. An Episcopalian by faith, she was a lifelong member of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Kingwood, where she served on the vestry for many years and as church organist for several decades.
Waneila’s legacy includes three sons, Marc, Kevin and John. Marc is married to the former Debora Whetsell, of Kingwood. They currently reside in Hilton Head Island, S.C., and are parents to three of her grandchildren, Ashlee (Cory), Skyler (Mitch) and Alex (Aaron) and three of her great-grandchildren, Davis and Cooper (Ashlee/Cory) and Charlie (Skyler/Mitch). Kevin, a resident of Morgantown, is married to Dhel Enriquez, of the Philippines. At the time of her death, Waneila resided with Kevin and Dhel. Kevin has four of her grandchildren, Robert, Rachel, Shannon and Carmella and her fourth great-grandchild, Lee (Rachel/Zach). John, who also lives in Morgantown, is married to the former Diane Childs, of Kingwood. They have three of her grandchildren, Sage, Asia Mae and Reid.
Waneila was a great role model who dedicated her life to her husband, family, friends and her community, working to make Preston County a better place for all that lived there. The results of her devotion to education and expanding the opportunities for all the children attending public school is still present today.
A celebration of her life will be held at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Kingwood, beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 18. A reception will follow the service. In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully requests that donations be considered to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 543, Kingwood, WV 26537 or the WVU Foundation, Attention Tim Bolling P.O. Box 1650, Morgantown, WV 26507-1650.
Arrangements are under the direction of the Kingwood Funeral Home and Crematory, Kingwood.