Gillette retires from federal career, not from hammer dulcimer

Kansas City District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Published Jan. 27, 2023
Don Gillette, recently retired from the Kansas City District, on his own time playing his hammer dulcimer in 2012.

Don Gillette, recently retired from the Kansas City District, on his own time playing his hammer dulcimer in 2012.

When records manager Don Gillette retired from the Kansas City District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at the end of 2022, he did not stop playing his beloved hammer dulcimer.

Gillette proved pivotal in the relocation of thousands of boxes of records that had been kept in the local records repository at the Richard Bolling Federal Building in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. His upbeat personality made him a great fit for the variety of workers – engineers, administrative assistants and even public affairs specialists. Gillette knew the fine line between encouraging completion of the records relocation and hectoring teammates into not wanting to complete the process.

“Don did a lot of great things behind the scenes as our Records Manager. His recent support on the accounting, transferring or destroying of our historical records has been significant as we modernize our file management system. We will definitely miss Don for his contributions and friendly customer service,” said Pete Hentschel, chief, Operations Division.

Outside of work, Gillette has long been associated with playing the hammer dulcimer. For six generations, the folk instrument has been played by a member of the Gillette family. Growing up, his love for the instrument grew through listening to his mother’s father, his grandfather, and also his mother. Lore for the hammer dulcimer calls for every other generation to be bitten by the bug to play. In his family, that has been every generation for the last three.

Gillette, tongue-in-cheek, said he is an “internationally recognized” player due to his second place showing in an open instrument contest in South Korea while he was on active duty there while he was serving his country in the Armed Forces. He was the top (and only) hammer dulcimer player. Back in the United States and twenty years ago, Gillette placed third in a hammer dulcimer national contest in Wichita, Kansas.

He plays by ear and notes that he enjoys classical music that goes “straight to soothe my soul.” Gillette often takes his instrument to senior homes to play, and they enjoy the toe-tapping energy he brings. He composes original music in his mind and plays it in improvisational moments.

For those not familiar with the sound of the hammer dulcimer, they can hear it in many songs of Mannheim Steamroller. The group has adapted many classic Christmas carols to use the dulcimer 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 hammer dulcimer.