When Director of Records Don Gillette retired from the Kansas City District, US Army Corps of Engineers, in late 2022, he didn’t stop playing his beloved hammer dulcimer.
Gillette was instrumental in relocating thousands of boxes of documents that had been stored in the local document vault at the Richard Bolling Federal Building in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Her optimistic personality made him a perfect match for the variety of workers: engineers, administrative assistants, and even public affairs specialists. Gillette knew the fine line between encouraging record transfer completion and convincing teammates that they didn’t want to complete the process.
“Don has done a lot of great things behind the scenes as our Records Manager. Its recent support for the accounting, transfer or destruction of our historical documents has been significant as we modernize our file management system. Don will certainly be missed for his contributions and friendly customer service,” said Pete Hentschel, chief of operations.
Outside of work, Gillette has long been associated with playing the psaltery. For six generations, the folk instrument has been played by a member of the Gillette family. As she grew older, her love for the instrument grew from listening to her mother’s father, her grandfather and also her mother. The hammer psaltery tradition calls for every other generation to be bitten by the bug to play. In her family, this has been every generation for the past three.
Gillette, ironically, said he was an “internationally recognized” musician thanks to his second-place finish in an open instrument competition in South Korea while on active duty there while serving his country’s military. He was the best (and only) psaltery player. Back in the United States and twenty years ago, Gillette placed third in a national backflips competition in Wichita, Kansas.
He plays by ear and notes that he likes classical music that goes “straight to soothe my soul.” Gillette often takes his instrument to old people’s homes to play, and they appreciate the energy of the touch he brings. He composes original music in his mind and plays it in moments of improvisation.
For those unfamiliar with the sound of the hammer dulcimer, they can hear it in many Mannheim Steamroller songs. The group has adapted many classic Christmas carols to use the psaltery, including “Silent Night”.
The district sends Gillette its best wishes as he retires from federal service and celebrates with him as he continues his love of music and playing the psaltery.