A Legacy of Loyalty:
The Wheeler Family
Wheeler ’15 was not only the first woman to
be elected to public office in Madison County, N.Y.;
she and her husband, Nathan ’15, were also the
first in a four-generation line of Laurentians.
Over the last 100 years, the Wheeler family has had over twenty
family members, extending over four generations, attend
While many families tend to be interested in
the same student and alumni activities, the Wheelers are a
bit different. Many were in different Greek houses; some went
abroad to various places around the world while others stayed
on campus and volunteered and participated on several committees
As alumni, the Wheelers have contributed hundreds of
hours to St. Lawrence
by volunteering at telethons and other fundraising events and by working as career
advisors. Their legacy at St. Lawrence is not about how many things they have
done and continue to do, but about the leadership roles each has taken in different
capacities for St. Lawrence.
Although St. Lawrence has always been coeducational,
many women didn’t
attend college in the early 1900s. Geraldine Walls Wheeler ’15 did. Geraldine,
who grew up in the Utica area, began the family legacy of leadership as an activist
for women’s rights. She was the first woman to be elected to office in
Madison County; she was elected a welfare commissioner, later moving to Albany
to work for the State Welfare Commission.
Her grandson, Jon Wheeler ’80,
says that she was a woman “ahead
of her time.”
At St. Lawrence, Geraldine met Nathan Wheeler ’15,
who was from Canton and held several track and field records at the University.
Once married, the couple consistently supported St. Lawrence, and their son,
Platt ’44 continued
the family legacy. He met Marilyn Merrill ’45 at St. Lawrence, and
they soon married.
Platt enjoyed his days at St. Lawrence so much that
when he was working as an educator and as an administrator, he pushed young people,
even his own, to go to St. Lawrence. Platt and Marilyn’s three sons,
the late Richard ’70 and Jon all continued their education at
St. Lawrence. David was a member of the football team, the “L” club
and Thelmo. He was a government and English major, and Richard was also an English major.
Jon was a chemistry major who studied on the Canada Program, and a student government
senator and officer in his fraternity, Sigma Pi Epsilon. When Jon graduated,
he married Nanette Eppolito Wheeler ’81, another active member of the community,
and both became active alumni and volunteered for several different events.
Wheeler family picture includes the following alumni:
Platt Wheeler ’44, Marilyn Merrill Wheeler ’45,
David Wheeler ’67, Jon Wheeler ’80, Nan Eppolito
Wheeler ’81, Kathy Wheeler DeParde ’91 and
Ellen Wheeler Wingard ’93.
Jon’s dedication to St. Lawrence eventually led to his
being elected to the Alumni Executive Council. His leadership
skills were evident to the council and he was soon elected
president, also giving him the opportunity to be a delegate
to the Board of Trustees.
The University was in a transition
mode throughout his two-year tenure, but despite this, he noted
that the University constituents had exceptionally strong ties
throughout his presidency, helping the transition a great deal.
wonderful experience at St. Lawrence put
him with his current job as a principal at Holy Cross School
in Syracuse. Now, he gets to share his St. Lawrence experience
with his daughters, Kathleen Wheeler DeParde ’91
and Ellen ’94, who were the fourth generation of Wheelers
to attend St. Lawrence.
Although they were both members of Kappa Delta Sigma
and were part of the stage production crew, they were
unique, not only from each other, but from the rest of their
Kathleen, a Baker/Vilas Scholar, was a psychology major
and studied in Vienna. Ellen, who was a religious studies major,
was a member of the Sinners singing group, the Career Planning
Council, the Student Alumni Organization and the Hospice Outreach
Program. Her work on campus was recognized by many different
groups who showed their appreciation for her hard work by presenting
her with a senior award on Moving-Up Day.
The earlier generations
of the legacy had strong ties to the North Country even before
anyone attended St. Lawrence, and today, although that
tie is not as great as it once was, their dedication to St. Lawrence
has grown with each generation. Their determination to help
St. Lawrence continue to grow, along with the leadership roles
they continue to accept, will make St. Lawrence
a much stronger place for the next 150 years.