In Their Own Words [Main Story]
Three students share their thoughts about “Prof. Wheeler”
Sadly, my favorite memory of Dr. Wheeler lacks all context now: I cannot for the life of me remember my good-natured but “snarktastic” remark—possibly something about refusing to do my final paper on Zane Grey? But I will always have that perfect mental snapshot of how the venerable white-haired elder of the English Department paused for a second behind his posh wooden desk, then stuck his tongue out at me like a schoolkid.
Dr. Wheeler is a person of dignified sentimentality, dedicated to instilling a love for language and literature in his students. In my case my mother had already taken care of that from my infancy, but his enthusiasm affected me in another way—I remember an English Department gathering at his house by the river when I got to see his collection of literature of the American West for the first time. Shelves upon shelves, lovingly cataloged and organized, carefully preserved. I’d always known—everyone had always known—about his academic obsession with the frontier genre but that visual, for me, was revelatory. I thought: Whoa, wait. So, this is allowed? Does this mean I can do that, just dedicate myself to doggedly analyzing something I love, just because I love it?
Organizing the Renaissance Man/Woman contest, or allowing his English-major students to forgo one of his classes in favor of self-designed independent study (with thesis) supervised by him (à la the New England Study Tour)—without a trace of ego: he just made reading a joy, and gave us room to grow, branch out, and explore our potential—and was far more down-to-earth than I ever imagined him to be on first meeting.
—Camille Lofters, English/pre-law, and journalism major, 1995 graduate
While at Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University) I took both creative writing and expository writing from Dr. Wheeler. As a challenging professor who expected good effort to get a good grade, the end result was that he indeed helped us to better “inform, explain, describe, or define” our subject to our readers. In many cases Dr. Wheeler’s assignments not only honed my writing skills but helped define my outlooks on life, from important issues to trivial. On the trivial side, an essay I wrote called “My Complicated System of Sports Loyalties” still governs whom I root for to this day (in this year’s World Series, I rooted for Texas rather than San Francisco because they were farther east and the American League representative).
Dr. Wheeler was always personally interested in what was happening in his current and former students’ lives, and enjoyed the exchange of ideas. It was that sort of exchange that allowed me to share ideas with Dr. Wheeler as he was just beginning to launch the distribution network for what would become his hugely popular Christmas in My Heart book series. In my own mind he ranks among the top five best teachers I ever had.
—David Potts, business administration/management major, 1990 graduate
I took at least two or three classes with Dr. Wheeler, beginning in my sophomore year. I remember how much he genuinely loved literature—reading it, writing it, and teaching it. I appreciated his deep respect for tradition, yet he impressed me with how open-minded he was when students like me expressed differing opinions. He just enjoyed the dialogue, and that’s what I loved most about his classes.
As a department chair, Dr. Wheeler was incredibly supportive to me personally. I am proud of all his success as an author and editor of so many books. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy!
One thing he said on the final day of a class has really stuck with me (and, in fact, I was just thinking of it the other day): that each class he taught was like an island in time. It was the same way for me as a student with my favorite classes, and I thought that was a beautiful way to put it. The older I get, the more I cherish those memories. I work with words for a living, and I also write and edit poetry and prose on the side—I look back to my college years as the time when I realized that I really could make a life out of my love for literature. I hope Dr. Wheeler knows how much his students appreciate the legacy of his inspiration.
—Janelle Kilhstrom, English major, 2003 graduate