William Rodger Wheeler, age 79, died on November 3, 2014 at his residence in Springfield following an extended illness.
He was born in Lincoln Illinois on August 14, 1935 to William Roger and Mary Elizabeth (Kenning) Wheeler. He married Sandra Josephine Dehner on August 21, 1958, a loving and rambunctious union that lasted 56 years. Together they had five children: William Lee (Wendy Mettler); Mary Elizabeth “Liz”; Kimberly Ann (Douglas) Euers; Bradley Michael (Tammy Hill); and Mona Lynn “Missi” (John) Whittington.
He was predeceased by his parents, brother Thomas R. Wheeler, brother-in-law Hubert C. Smith, and his parents-in-law Frederick V. and Mona (Lutz) Dehner. He is survived by his wife, children, sister Betty Jo (Wheeler) Smith, brother Paul “Rick” (Gloria) Meyer and grandchildren Seth William Wheeler, Emily Ann Wheeler, Allison Catherine Wheeler, Madeleine Anita Whittington and William Rodger Francis Whittington.
Bill began his career in media sales at the Lincoln Courier in his hometown of Lincoln, Illinois in 1958. An expert swimmer holding Red Cross certifications of Senior Life Guard and Water Safety Instructor, he was shortly thereafter hired by the Mt. Pulaski Park District to manage their swimming pool and skating rink during which time he taught swimming classes for grade school children.
He returned to media sales at WDZ Radio in Decatur and subsequently moved to Springfield with his family to become one of the first salesmen to offer the new WTAX FM station (now WDBR) to sponsors. He continued his involvement with swimming and coaching as diving coach at Illini Country Club and at the YWCA. He additionally used his swimming talents by volunteering as a charter member of the Springfield Underwater Search and Rescue Team.
His reputation as a successful salesman led the owners of a new station being developed for the Springfield market to hire him as the first General Manager of the first country and western FM radio station in Illinois: WFMB FM. Under his management, this station successfully hit the airways in 1965 and continues today.
When WPRC, Lincoln’s only radio station, came up for sale, he took the opportunity to move into radio station ownership. He later returned to Springfield and joined Midwest Family stations specifically to assist in the revival of WNNS. While there he sold and managed their Sports Shows at the Convention Center, retiring after 44 years in the industry.
Bill was actively involved in charitable volunteer efforts in Springfield. He was named to the Board of Directors of the Illinois Veterans World War II Memorial in the development stages. As Public Relations Director he worked with the media and throughout the community to raise awareness for its successful completion. For his efforts, the Board of Directors honored him with an American flag flown over the Memorial. It was then presented to him in May of 2013 at a ceremony held at the Memorial.
Always an Abraham Lincoln buff, Bill was one of the first volunteers for the Abraham Lincoln Museum and Library, an effort which he thoroughly enjoyed and for which was asked many times to privately guide family and friends throughout the museum.
When his wife, Sandy, became the Executive Director of the LPGA golf tournament in 1979, he and their children jumped on board and did just about any and everything to help her attain her goals in presenting successful events. He hauled trash, he was a walking scorer, filled in wherever needed…and financially supported the event by playing in the pro ams. He became the voice of the tournament which lasted many years as he monitored the seven radio channels needed to keep things running smoothly.
Bill served his country for over 35 years. He began his military career on April 4, 1957 as a member of Battery “B”, 754th Field Artillery Battalion, U.S. Army Reserve. He advanced rapidly through the ranks of enlisted personnel, eventually accepting the position of Group Command Sergeant Major of the 303rd Ordinance Group in Springfield, Illinois. In 1983, in honor of his high degree of professionalism, he was appointed to the rank of Command Sergeant Major, HQS, 86th U.S. Army Reserve Command in Chicago Illinois. As an ARCOM Command Sergeant Major, he served as an outstanding role model for soldiers of all ranks and experience throughout the United States. He completed his military service with the 687th Supply and Service Battalion in Decatur, Illinois, on August 14, 1995. During his career, he was awarded many commendations for distinguished and outstanding service, including the Meritorious Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Army Commendation Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters.
Bill was widely known for his candor and sense of humor, which never left him during his years of decline. Devoted to family and country, generous with his time and talent, and always good for a laugh, our beloved husband, father and grandfather will continue to live through us all but will forever be missed.
Visitation will be held on Friday, November 7th from 4 to 7 P.M. at Staab Funeral Home in Springfield.
Funeral services will be held at 10 A.M. on Saturday, November 8th at Staab Funeral Home, followed by graveside services at approximately 12 noon at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Lincoln, Illinois where the firing squad of the American Legion Post 263 of Lincoln will conduct military honors.
A reception will follow at the Lincoln Knights of Columbus, 217 Limit Street, Lincoln, Illinois 62656.
Memorial donations can be made to the WWII Illinois Veteran’s Memorial, P.O. Box 5652, Springfield, Illinois 62705 or an Alzheimer’s charity of choice.
Date: Friday, November 7, 2014
Time: 04:00 pm - 07:00 pm
Date: Saturday, November 8, 2014
Time: 10:00 am
Date: Saturday, November 8, 2014
St. Mary’s Cemetery in Lincoln, Illinois
World War II Illinois Veteran's Memorial
Address:PO Box 5652, Springfield, IL, 62705
Memorial contributions may be made to World War II Illinois Veteran’s Memorial or an Alzheimer’s Charity of Choice.
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