In these days of nostalgia, when we so often count 50 years from this, and 100 years from that, I thought I'd remember half a century ago when the Indiana University Foundation went from its beginnings in 1935, with a seed-money grant of $5,000 from George A. Ball, under the wing of George (Dixie) Heighway, also Alumni Director, to an organization headed by its first Executive Director, a professional fundraiser, my father, Lawrence Wheeler.
I.U. President Herman B Wells had seen the need for this change as the University moved into a new era of growth and development, and he cast around for a suitable candidate. One of the people he asked for advice was Wheeler who said in effect, "Well, what about me?", and the thing was done.
As Dr. Wells wrote in Being Lucky; Reminiscences and Reflections, 1980, I.U. Press, Bloomington,
". . . the Foundation office staff in the beginning consisted solely of Dixie Heighway, who served on a part-time basis, and volunteers . . . By the mid-1940's we realized we needed a man who could devote full-time to the affairs of fund raising. We were able to secure the services of Lawrence Wheeler, an alumnus, who served the Foundation from January 1, 1944 to July 1, 1949. He was the first professional manager of the Foundation, having gained a background in money raising with the Ketchum organization in Pittsburgh. He knew all the techniques to be used and was a skilled writer, adept in the preparation of fund raising materials. To his advantage, Lawrence Wheeler had a wide acquaintanceship and fine reputation among the professionals in his field, and he had made a rare historic sense of the University's values as well as an ability to articulate its aspiration."
Papa was born in Princeton, Indiana, the county seat of Gibson County, a county which -- with its neighboring Warrick County -- was named for his Indiana pioneer ancestors, and which he commonly spoke of as, "the garden spot of southern Indiana."
Lawrence Wheeler was probably the quintessential Hoosier with his roots in the farm lands of Gibson County, and the main object of his professional life to spread the good word about the state and about Indiana University. His ancestors: McClures, Masseys, Devins, Wheelers and Kirkpatricks, came to Indiana as early as 1804. His father, the first Lawrence Wheeler, owned a general store in Patoka, and his grandfathers were farmers and storekeepers in that area. He was born in November, 1898, and attended the Princeton schools and St. Edward's Academy (for small boys) at Notre Dame University in South Bend. He graduated from Princeton High School in 1916. He traced his interest in journalism to the "High School Notes:" which he wrote in 1914 and '15 for the Princeton Daily Clarion.
My father enrolled at I.U. in 1916, an exciting time on a campus filled with exciting people: Ernie Pyle, Hoagy Carmichael, Charlie Halleck, Dr. William Lowe Bryan, and Professors Hoffman, Lindley, Piercy, Hershey, Berry, Cogshall and many more. While he was on campus he belonged to Alpha Tau Omega, Scabbard and Blade, Sigma Delta Chi, wrote for the Daily Student as Ecne R. Wall and filled in as substitute Presbyterian Student Pastor while his future father-in-law, the Rev. T.R. White, was away on military service. Of even more importance to me, he met his wife-to-be, Ruth White, a Bloomington girl and Kappa Alpha Theta. The friendships made during those years were permanent, enriching his life and adding depth to his work on behalf of the University.
Papa served overseas in WWI in Base Hospital 131 in France. He said of himself that he, "rode a typewriter to France and back." He wrote a 200 page illustrated history of the unit which was given to every man in the division. He returned from France in 1919 and graduated from I.U. in June, 1921. He also attended graduate school at Columbia University in New York City.
Indiana University Archives
Lawrence Wheeler in 1948 with Lawrence Wheeler III.
| In June, 1922, he and Mama were married at Meridian Heights Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis by my grandfather, Tom White. They borrowed my grandfather's Model T Ford and drove to Washington, D.C., for their honeymoon, camping beside the car at night. Ross Bartley, longtime head of the I.U. News Bureau, was press secretary for President Warren G. Harding, so Mama and Papa had tea at the White House, and then climbed back in the car and returned to Indianapolis. In due course they became the parents of Lawrence Wheeler, Jr. in 1923 and Jane Wheeler in 1928.
After graduation Papa went to work for the Indianapolis Star as copyreader, State editor and then Sunday editor. Following that he joined the Christian Board of Education for the Presbyterian church doing publicity and financial campaigning from Indiana as far west as Oregon. His fundraising experience led to employment by Ketchum, Inc. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1944 Papa was called to I.U. to be the first Executive Director of the I.U. Foundation. Dr. Bryan wrote to him on November 8, "It was a good day for I.U. when you came as a student. It was another good day for I.U. when you came to found the Foundation."
A series of heart problems led, in 1949, to a change in occupation and he was appointed Director of Communications and Professor of Journalism, teaching courses in publicity and public relations. This change of status prompted another note from Dr. Bryan on June 30, 1949,
"Dear friend, The news of your change of title and assignment came to me at the same time in your letter and in the papers. Whatever your title and assignment you will show the mastery which you have shown in the past. The foundation of the Foundation must remain for you a monument. Sincerely, W.L. Bryan"
J. Dwight Peterson, a member of the Foundation's Board of Directors wrote:
"I have always enjoyed working with you in the affairs of the Indiana University Foundation. It should be a great satisfaction to you to know that you laid the footing of the Foundation upon which a great superstructure can be built. I am most happy that we will not lose your advice and counsel and that you will still be working for a greater and better Indiana University. I know you will be happy in your new work because you will be in a position to continue to contribute as you have done in the past in all affairs of the University, which we love so much."
The I.U. Foundation's 50th anniversary report says:
"Under the direction of Wheeler who 'could write like an angel' - (Dr. Wells again) - the annual giving program was begun and other elements of [a] comprehensive plan were implemented. By 1946 ... the Foundation. . . had received and distributed $75,183.14 for the good of I. U. . . . $41,000.00 had been given to the Library, research projects had received $11,411.00, $5,725.00 had been awarded for scholarships and fellowships, and the balance had been used for other needs. In addition, the Foundation had $84,452.00 in assets."
This money amounts to about $1,400,000.00 in 1996 dollars, a not inconsiderable accomplishment. Among the entities he established at I.U. were the Ernie Pyle Memorial Fund, the Wendell Willkie Scholarship Fund and the Lieber Memorial Fund. He secured as well several valuable items for the University Library. Cecil K. Byrd of the Lilly Library wrote to me: "Please mention that it was Lawrence who brought the Associated Willkie files to the Lilly Library." In 1940 Papa had raised funds in Rhode Island for Wendell Willkie's presidential campaign, and had, therefore, an inside track with the Willkie organization.
There was much speaking involved in all of Papa's work for I.U. He spoke to Alumni, fraternal and business groups all over the country including a trip in 1951 that took him through all the Western states and brought him before audiences in nearly every large city on the way. One speech that always brought an enthusiastic response was "Strange Wills and Trusts." He spoke to the student body at University High school where he was introduced as "our speaker for the day: Jane Wheeler's father." He told me later that that was his proudest introduction.
He was instrumental in acquiring the Bradford Woods property for Riley Hospital, and ran the "Save the Shades" campaign to preserve the last stand of virgin timber in Indiana for a state park. This was during the last years of the war when gasoline was in short supply and he had to ride the bus to various out-of-town meetings, frequently standing up all the way.
Every once in awhile he would call the UHS office and have them send me wherever he was to meet someone special or to hear an interesting speaker. It was in this way that I met Ernie Pyle, and sat at the feet of Carl Sandburg while he sang songs and told tales to a rapt audience of college students.
He served in 1946 on the Board of Governors of the Society of Indiana Pioneers, and on the Board of the Indiana Union both during his college years and in 1946. He also served the Board of Sigma Delta Chi, was a Kiwanian, and a Mason, and was a charter member of Princeton Post 25 of the American Legion.
This partial listing of accomplishments and memberships only hint at the real quality of this dear man. Many letters from colleagues and friends, written at the time of his death in 1952, use such words as genial, leadership, service, friendly personality, friendly interest in people, deep loyalty to the University. The memorial resolution presented to my mother by the faculty says, among other things . . .
"He earned a respected and valued place as a recorder and interpreter of University history. His students, his colleagues and the University Alumni will remember him with genuine and sincere affection."
Indiana University Archives
Lawrence Wheeler on the
| While Papa was considerably involved in his University activities, it is as a loving father that I remember him. We were secure in our home and the regard of our parents for us and for each other. Papa was very proud of my brother's overseas service in WWII, and of his later connection with I.U. as an undergraduate, a graduate student, and as a teacher. Had he lived to see it he would have been proud of my graduate studies there, and of the year I spent as a teaching associate in the Home Economics Department. He was a funny man, always ready with a joke or a prank-- I remember lettering an elaborate award for Rooster Coffee when he ran 90 plus yards for a touchdown the wrong way-- and he derived a great deal of pleasure from his column "Indiana, Our Indiana", written under the name of William Henry Tecumseh Michaelmas, for the Bloomington Star Courier. For several years he wrote letters of humorous congratulations or admonition to a wide variety of people, public and private, as Oscar B (no period) Burlap, an imaginary I.U. alumnus, and owner of the Burlap Turnbuckle Manufacturing Company.
Our house in town and our cabin a few miles east of Bloomington were frequently full of students. The groups of students who traveled the state entertaining Alumni Clubs were honored annually at a steak barbecue at the cabin, and young people, singly or in groups, turned up wherever Papa was. He always had time to listen to them, to speak an encouraging word or to help them in any way he could. He took part in their activities, as well. I can remember him, for instance, leading cheers at a Powder Puff football game in the old Memorial Stadium, and crowning both Vaughan twins as Homecoming Queens.
There are two more Lawrence Wheelers now; his grandson and great-grandson. Three of his grandchildren were born before his death and two have arrived since. There are also eleven great-grandchildren. One of our daughters, Elizabeth Boling, teaches at the I.U. School of Education in the Department of Instructional Systems Technology, and so is the third generation of our family to fill a teaching position at the University.
Perhaps it would be well to let two old friends sum up the contributions Lawrence Wheeler made to his Alma Mater: Donald C. Danielson, Vice Chairman of the City Securities Corporation in Indianapolis writes,
"When I returned to I.U. as Field Secretary to the Alumni Association after nearly four years service in the U.S. Navy during World War II, I had the extraordinary experience to be associated with two of I.U. legends. They were George (Dixie) Heighway, Alumni Secretary, and Lawrence Wheeler, Executive Director of the I.U. Foundation. My first responsibility was to reactivate existing Alumni Clubs and to establish new clubs in the State of Indiana. Lawrence Wheeler knew alumni in all 92 Indiana counties and proved to be valuable friend by opening one door after another for me to carry out my assignment with the Alumni Office. Whatever success I enjoyed was directly linked to my mentor, Lawrence Wheeler. I shall never forget the boost he gave to my life."
Joseph Batchelor, a local educator and friend, wrote to Mama on the morning of Papa's funeral, November 11, 1952:
"They tell me he is gone, my friend, William Henry Tecumseh Michaelmas, Alias Oscar Burlap, Class of '21. They don't know you, do they Oscar: So long as friendly doors swing open to puzzled students, anxious alumni, or struggling scholars-- So long as kindly smiles and keen minds encourage the life of the mind and the Spirit-- So long as Hoosiers care about their heritage, their ancestry, and their folkways-- So long as God is good to Indiana in giving her men like you, So long will her young men dream dreams and her old men see visions fulfilled -- Because you are the very soil and soul of Indiana."