Mark King learned how to play piano when he was 5 years old. When stressed, it helps him relax. When tired, it gives him energy.
It also helped the 62-year-old Dublin resident find a lasting way to honor a friend’s memory.
King is the radiology residency program director and interim chairman for radiology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. He also is founder of Christine’s Christmas, an annual Christmas concert that raises money for a variety of nonprofit organizations and agencies supporting children.
The concert is held every year in memory of Christine Wilson, who died in April 2003 in a house fire near the Ohio State campus. Though the initiative started with King playing piano by himself, it’s grown into a concert featuring the best musicians in central Ohio.
“It’s the honor of my life to be able to do it,” King said.
The concert, which features an orchestra, choir and backing band, routinely brings in $100,000 in revenue and anywhere from 600 to 850 attendees. But it all started with King’s next door neighbor, Wilson, and the relationship that grew between her and King’s family.
Wilson was the oldest child of Tim and Pam Wilson. Tim Wilson nominated King as an Everyday Hero.
King said he and his wife, Heidi, were like another set of parents to Christine, and she was like a child to them. She babysat their kids Laura, Allison and Michael (now 26, 24 and 20, respectively).
Wilson was a great babysitter, King said, and interested in education.
“We felt very, very comfortable with her,” he said.
Wilson was one of five students killed in an arson fire in April 2003. She was a student at Ohio University pursuing a degree in education at the time, and she and two sorority sisters attended a birthday party for an OSU student, King said. They stayed overnight at the house.
King was mowing his lawn in early August that year when the idea came to him. He decided to create a Christmas CD to sell in Wilson’s memory, and in November, he recorded 12 songs on the Ohio State campus.
He sold more than 2,500 CDs without any advertising, taking them to small local shops to be sold for $15 each. People bought a copy, then returned to buy more, he said.
Wilson’s father, Tim Wilson, had started the Christine Wilson Foundation after his daughter’s death, King said, and he told the family about his plan to give proceeds from the CDs to the foundation they created.
King began getting phone calls, letters and people stopping him in the street to share how his Christmas CD affected them. He said he realized he needed to do a live show.
The following Christmas season, he put on a concert with funds going to the Christine Wilson Foundation to be given to the Childhood League of Columbus. The annual event grew from there.
Although the concert began in one of the halls on the Ohio State campus, it grew and was moved to Dublin Jerome High School before moving yet again to Downtown Columbus, Wilson said.
Following receipt of a $1 million commitment of donations made over several years, Nationwide Children’s Hospital in 2012 announced it was renaming its burn unit the Christine Wilson Burn Center, Wilson said.
In addition to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, proceeds from the annual concerts have been donated to Miracle League of Central Ohio, the Willow Ridge Therapeutic Riding Facility in Plain City and Bishop Watterson High School, as well as other agencies and organizations.
This past Christmas, the foundation recognized the 12 Days of Christmas by donating $2,000 to 12 different charities, starting the day of the concert 12 days before the holiday, Wilson said.
Every year, Wilson said, King starts the concert off with a monologue of how Christine changed him. The speech, and the music afterwards, is heart-warming, he said.
“I think it’s been healing,” he said.