The stray cats of Wayne Wilke

The Grass on an empty lot has a unique story to tell about the cats of XU

written by: CARTER DANIELS, staff writer
Newswire photo by Desmond Fischer
Judge Wilke’s house used to occupy the empty lot that sits on the residential mall by Kulhman Hall and across the street from Brockman Hall. The only thing that still remains is the stray cats that roam around campus.

As you walk around the Xavier campus you might see stray cats following you or just doing their own thing. 

The cats primarily hang out around the residential mall and the A.B. Cohen Center. You may wonder who these cats belong to and who takes care of the felines. 

Wayne Wilke, who passed away on Apr. 30, 2017, was responsible for these cats. Along with the help of his assistants, Wilke cared for over 40 stray cats that can be found on the Xavier campus. Wilke had a long history in public service, most notably serving two terms as the Probate Judge of Hamilton County, Ohio. 

Wilkes was also the founder and a member of Wilke and Goering, a bankruptcy law firm in Cincinnati. 

He was also known by the  Xavier community because of his former house on Ledgewood Avenue, located right across the street from Brockman Hall.  

Wilke’s former home sat nearly 100 yards south of the French Victorian house his father, Harry, bought when he moved to Cincinnati to become a Cincinnati Police Department detective after his days of playing catcher for the Detroit Tigers. 

After selling the Victorian home on cash to a Dutch couple in the 1970’s, Wilke permanently moved into his second property on the street. 

He expanded the humble structure to a 10-room home including double-brick walls to combat the noise from campus, dozens of cat houses and a movie theatre to watch his more than 18,000 films—192 of which feature his uncle, actor Robert J. Wilke.

In addition to being known as the cat caretaker, Wilke was friendly to Xavier students and staff, creating friendships with many of them. 

Wilke would also be found attending Xavier basketball games with John Kucia, the administrative vice president and the principal assistant to Father Graham. 

In a previous interview with Newswire, Wilke commented, “I have never had a problem with the kids at Xavier. Sure, they get loud sometimes, but all I have to do is go inside. And I enjoy talking to them — that’s why I sit outside a lot.” 

Regarding the future of his property, Wilke commented,“I’d like to see it turned into its own residence hall. There are eight rooms in there that could be bedrooms.” 

Now, the field where the house stood is scheduled to be the space for a new residence hall. 

Brady Eyer was Wilke’s personal assistant who helped care for the cats and took care of him before his death. 

“He’s the most interesting man I’ve ever met. Most people don’t realize that when they walk by. They only see the cats.” Eyer remarked.

Wilke was not the only cat-lover in the Xavier community. Professor Liz Johnson, chair of the Department of Computer Science at Xavier has a big heart for cats. 

In addition to her occupation at Xavier, Johnson has served as the volunteer executive director of Cincinnati nonprofit Ohio Alleycat Resource (OAR) since 2009. 

In an interview with the blog “Good Things Going Around,” Johnson commented, “one of the reasons I got hooked at OAR was that I helped to socialize a shy kitten who was not adoptable when I started. Each week, I would spend time with her after my cat care shift was finished, slowly winning her over through treats and petting. Eventually she learned that humans were ok and she was adopted.” 

So, if you see stray cats around the Xavier campus roaming near the residential mall or by the streets near Brockman Hall, don’t worry, they have a history.