Longtime civic activist Roger Wheeler dies

Longtime civic activist Roger Wheeler dies

Roger E. Wheeler, the prominent Alexandria civic leader who was a fixture in city politics for more than six decades, died of cancer June 5 at the Fountains at Washington House in Alexandria.  He was 88.

Wheeler was known on the West End of the city where he lived for 60 years as a fierce advocate for protecting neighborhoods of single-family homes from more intensive development, spearheading anti-sprawl campaigns for the late Mayor Charles E. Beatley and former Vice Mayor Mel Bergheim.  He was the founding president of the Strawberry Hill Association and president of the Seminary Hill Association and of the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations, which he helped found in 1964.  Despite all of his success in marshalling his neighbors as a civic activits, he ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for Alexandria City Council in 1979.

He was the kindest, most patient man that anyone had ever met, said his daughter Sandra Wheeler of Alexandria. He never showed anger, unless it was politics. He could get pretty steamed about that.

As a child, Wheeler dragged his daughter to Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy rallies, but it was a neighbor, the legendary Chuck Beatley, the former mayor, who stirred his passions with local politics. He and Chuck didnt want developers to come into the city and just rip down trees and put up high-rises, Sandra Wheeler said. He was so passionate.

Roger Eugene Wheeler was born in 1920 in Auglaize County, Ohio.  He majored in education at Bowling Green State University, earned a masters degree in sociology at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and took advanced courses  in political science at American University.  He also graduated from the Armys Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and taught at Army and naval intelligence schools.  Wheeler was a retired intelligence and management specialist for military and space programs

His 29 years of  civilian federal service included work at NASA, the Army Security Agency, the Air Force Directorate of Targets and the Air Force Intelligence Center.  A World War II veteran, Wheeler became a colonel during his 32 years as an active Army Reserve officer, specializing in intelligence.

During World War II, his first billet as a newly commissioned officer was with the Army unit assigned to the air defense of Washington.   His active duty service included 18 months in the European Theater as a company commander.  From 1948 to 1980, he was a member of the active Army Reserve, the last six years as an intelligence officer in the 352nd Civil Affairs Unit.

At NASA, where he was a management specialist from 1962 until he retired in 1976, he helped prepare long range plans for communications and the facilities and equipment to support them.  Given his background in communications and intelligence, he supervised installation of cryptographic linkages for NASAs space missions.

NASA cited him for his contributions to the success of the first moon landing in 1969.  Coincidentally, he and astronaut Neil Armstrong both came from the town of Wakaponeta, Ohio.

After retiring from federal service, Wheeler earned  an electricians license,  a real estate license and an instrument-rated pilots license.

A skilled craftsman, he built or remodeled several homes, including the one he lived in for almost 50 years.  He also was a property manager for Better Homes Realty.  Since the early 1960s, the Wheelers have lived on Maury Lane off Seminary Road, in a house that was nothing more than a shell when they moved in. Wheeler became an expert carpenter, plumber and electrician, remodeling the home and those of his children and friends.

He even got his journeymans electricians license just so he wouldnt have to bother with all of the licensing, Sandra Wheeler chuckled. He dabbled in rebuilding homes for profit, but thats not where his heart was.

In addition to working with his hands, he enjoyed flying. He was an officer of  Associated Pilots, Inc., a small air charter and  leasing service.

Wheeler was also active for many years in the Fairlington United Methodist Church in Alexandria.

This year, he and his wife, Dorothy Salisbury Wheeler, celebrated 65 years of marriage.  They met at a freshman reception in college.  In  retirement,  they established Wheeler Enterprises — he was treasurer, and she managed the gift shops they owned. The couple also enjoyed traveling: they visited six continents and all 50 states together.

In addition to his wife, survivors include a son, James (Marjorie), a daughter, Sandra Wheeler, all of Alexandria; a granddaughter, Michelle Wheeler Muller (Eric), and a great-granddaughter, Kelsey Muller, all of Canton, Ga.; and a brother, Howard Wheeler (Dorothy), of  Norwalk, Ohio.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Thurs., Aug. 28 at the Old Post Chapel at Fort Meyer, with interment at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors