A U.S. Marine veteran of the Pacific Theatre in World War II, Joseph Wiser served from 1948 to 1980 as a New Milford High School physical education teacher, also teaching health classes and for many years serving as physical education coordinator.
From the early 1950s through 1980, he served as NMHS’ first athletic director, guiding the growth of Green Wave sports for thousands of boys and girls, for major and minor sports, with a disciplined, fair and caring hand.
“He had the foresight to have the programs for all the kids,” praised Rich Kosier, a longtime NMHS faculty member. “It’s a tribute to Mr. Wiser, when he retired, they needed to hire two people (for the athletic director and physical education coordinator positions).”
During his legendary tenure, NMHS grew its interscholastic sports program from eight to 17 varsity teams, with a focus on adding girls’ teams and so-called minor sports. Varsity sports added included 11-man football, golf, boys' soccer, softball, boys' tennis, girls' tennis, girls' track & field, volleyball and wrestling.
His daughter Laurie, the youngest of his three children to attend and play sports at NMHS, remembers coming to the realization that her father was an extraordinary educator.
“He seemed to have time for everyone,” she recalled. “It started to sink in… he’s a teacher. He had a love of all students. I took it for granted at the time that everybody loved him. Now I realize that not everybody’s like that.”
Joseph Wiser coached six-man football from 1948 to 1952, winning the old Housatonic Valley Schoolmen’s League title in 1949.
He coached basketball from 1949 to 1958, six times advancing to the state tournament.
He coached baseball from 1954 to 1964, winning three HVSL titles and the inaugural Western Connecticut Conference title in 1962.
During his years at NMHS, Joseph Wiser was active in the Booster Club; as faculty advisor for the annual freshman class magazine drive, which raised more $250,000 under his guidance; and as adviser for the American Field Service’s foreign exchange program.
The outdoor athletic facilities at NMHS were dedicated in 2000, the year of his passing, as the Joseph Wiser Athletic Complex.
In tribute after his former coach’s passing, then New Milford town clerk and 1957 NMHS graduate George Buckbee remembered Joseph Wiser for his firm discipline but caring way with students.
“You were always a friend of Joe Wiser,” he said. “He always had a good word for you, a glad hand.”