Deceased June 24, 2016

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50th Reunion Book Entry

In Memory

My father, John "Wheels" Wheeler, died on June 24 in his hometown of Anniston, Ala.

Pop prepared for Amherst at Deerfield and was proud to be one of Frank Boyden’s boys. At Amherst, he was a Deke and member of the varsity tennis team. At his 60th Reunion in 2013, I had the privilege of traveling with him to Amherst and getting reacquainted with the class of ’53. We took a nostalgic tour of the campus making our way to the gym (to make sure his team pictures were still hanging), then up to Deke and ended our tour at the Lord Jeff. He reminded me that his father, Ray, class of 1910, had been an original stockholder of the Amherst Inn Company. One of the highlights was a luncheon held at the Lord Jeff by the current tennis coach for the 1952 New England Championship team.

While Pop treasured his experiences in New England, he was an Alabamian at heart. After Amherst, he joined the family banking business and had a distinguished career with the Anniston National Bank/Regions Bank, ultimately retiring as President/CEO in the mid-’90s. He came along at a time when bank presidents knew their depositors. His office was on the first floor, just off the main lobby and it was by choice. He wanted to stay connected. Pop was a successful banker, but he also had a civic calling. The same bank office had a large window overlooking Anniston’s main drag where he could keep an eye on his hometown and its citizens. As part of his civic duties, he helped lead a successful fundraising campaign to revitalize downtown. For his efforts, he was awarded the Anniston Star’s Citizen of the Year. As Mike Palmer ’53 noted after a visit, “Your father was a one-man chamber of commerce.”

He leaves behind Jane, his wife of 55 years, son Greg of Chicago, daughter Leslie of Atlanta, and Ray ’84 also of Atlanta. In addition, he is survived by his eight grandchildren, his brother Porter ’62, his wife Mary of Washington, D.C., and their son, Mark ’04, of San Francisco.

Ray Wheeler ’84

50th Reunion

 John P. Wheeler My association with Amherst started with my dad's reunions. He was class of 1910. Later, I became an alumnus (class of 1953), followed by brother Porter (class of 1962), son Ray (class of 1984), and nephew Mark (class of2004).
Insights from Vic Mahler's excellent class notes have made me realize how different my career was from most, so it seemed appropriate to share some of the details with you. When I went home to work, marry and have a family, my activities were very visible in our small town, since the bank where I worked for 42 years was at the heart of the community. Bank deposits were only $15 million then, and in my early banking days, integrity substituted for caution. Teller money drawers were not locked and hand-cranked adding machines and spittoons were still in evidence in the lobby. There was no advertising of bank services. Two senior officers with fifty years of service passed away during my second year. As a young officer, I was confronted with an avalanche of change both within and without the bank, but my liberal arts education (knowing nothing and everything) paid off.

We introduced accountability, auditing, written policies and in-house education to the bank. We issued our first certificate of deposit at 2 %% and made our first "discount" rate auto loans. The bank's new-found prosperity enabled me to assist an architect in planning a new building and designing an eight-window drive-in, a record number at the time. Introducing our in-house computer system could have been a disaster, since the demand deposits were lost for more than 24 hours during the conversion, but it ultimately succeeded. We showed excellent results with our local merchant charge card long before VISA and MasterCard appeared in the southeast. Attending LSU Graduate School of Banking gave me added confidence in our direction.
Being president for 25 of the 42 years of my tenure also meant having to deal with such negative events as a rape, a robbery, a bomb threat, and a customer dropping dead in the teller line. Then there was the time we were called upon to assist a correspondent bank in collecting a million dollars in loans on which they had failed to take a mortgage. Once, we found ourselves evaluating loans to be purchased from a failed bank, without benefit of credit reports.

It is rewarding to see the results of your decisions when you drive by a new home under construction or the site of a new industry for which you have furnished financing or purchased IDB bonds, or when you see entrepreneurs prosper through loans you have made. One of the greatest rewards is to observe the professional growth in your staff.

There was never a lack of leadership opportunities. I served as president of an alphabet soup of organizations as well as senior warden of my church. During the upheaval of desegregation, our business community addressed racial tensions through a biracial committee.

There was never a lack of leadership opportunities. I served as president of an alphabet soup of organizations as well as senior warden of my church.During the upheaval of desegregation, our business community addressed racial tensions through a biracial committee called C.O.U.L. (Committee on Unified Leadership.) Boycotts and marches occurred, but our weekly meetings provided a place for discussion and resolution.

My continuing interest is expressed through our 3E Association (Economics, Education and Entrepreneurship) formed by several of us in the Anniston business community and a college economics professor. Through 3E, we provide seminars for public school teachers and methods for bringing the profit-oriented free enterprise system into their classrooms.
Although I have enjoyed a number of accolades through the years for my career activities,the greatest rewards by far have been my wife Jane, our two sons and one daughter and our six wonderful grandchildren.

John P. Wheeler