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Published: Tuesday, 4/3/2001

Boys ranch chief loved coaching

Mark Wheeler of Genoa, former executive director of the Pemberville Boys Ranch and president of the Genoa Park Board, died Saturday in his home. He was 55.

The cause of death was a blood clot related to a broken kneecap he suffered in a fall last week, said his wife of 32 years, Lana Wheeler.

From 1979 to 1994, Mr. Wheeler directed the boys ranch, which aided troubled children and teenagers. Under his direction, the facility added many improvements and grew considerably, increasing its number of residents from six to 25.

“He had a talent working with kids,” his wife said.

Early in his career, he considered being a teacher but instead became a counselor at the Toledo Mental Health Center, where he was part of the psychiatric treatment team, the center's drug abuse treatment unit, and where he helped establish the area's first halfway house for adult parolees.

“He enjoyed helping people. He was fascinated by the mental health system,” Mrs. Wheeler said.

That experience led him to earn a master's degree in education from the University of Toledo.

From 1975 to 1979 Mr. Wheeler was a partner in Career and Life Planning Services. At the time he, his wife, and young son lived in Toledo. Seeking a more rural environment in which to rear his family, he returned to Genoa, where he was raised. He joined the boys ranch soon after.

With the birth of a second child, a daughter, Mr. Wheeler arranged his schedule so he could be home during the day, while his wife worked. Years later, he changed careers, in part so he could spend more time with his son before he left for college. “He was really a very sensitive guy,” Mrs. Wheeler said. “It was really good for the kids to have him there.”

The Wheelers met while they were students at Bowling Green State University. Early in their marriage they spent several summers hitchhiking around Europe, an experience Mrs. Wheeler recalls with fondness.

“We came of age in the '60s,” she said. “When you're young, and free you think you can do anything.”

Last summer, the Wheelers took their children on a trip to Ireland and England, where they reminisced about their experiences.

After leaving the boys ranch in 1994, Mr. Wheeler worked on special projects for the Genoa Savings and Loan Co. He retired in 1998.

His most recent passion had been coaching the seventh-grade girls' basketball team at Genoa Middle School. The job was a refreshing change after his years working with troubled youths, Mrs. Wheeler said.

“He absolutely loved coaching kids. He said they were some of the nicest kids you could ever find,” she said.

Mr. Wheeler enjoyed golf and was a passionate baseball fan. His friends looked forward each spring to receiving his pennant and World Series predictions, which, his wife said, were remarkably accurate.

The Wheelers maintained a cottage on Hamilton Lake in northeastern Indiana, where they enjoyed their summers.

“Mark's motto was that you had to seize the moment and enjoy every day as if it were your last. He did that,” Mrs. Wheeler said.

Survivors include his wife, Lana; son, Shannon; daughter, Suzanne; and sisters, Mary Jones and Marty Skilliter.

Visitation will be from 7-9 p.m. tonight in the Robinson-Henn-Brossia Funeral Home, Genoa. A private family celebration of Mr. Wheeler's life will take place at a later date. The family requests tributes to the seventh and eighth-grade girls' basketball program at Genoa Middle School or the Genoa Park Board.



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