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A Legacy of Loyalty:
The Wheeler Family

Geraldine Walls 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 St. Lawrence.

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 and councils.

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, David ’67, 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.

This 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.

David’s 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 legacy.

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.

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