John and Margie Wheeler
For John and Margie Wheeler, service to the community begins with passion.
“It’s very important to give back,” said John. “The best way to do that is to do something that really excites you.”
Social causes have driven Margie Wheeler as she has marched for civil rights; stood by rape victims; advocated for the uninsured; and supported children with autism and those with mental illness, to name just a few examples.
John Wheeler is motivated by the opportunity to spur economic development and restore vitality in Northeast Ohio. He likes to focus on projects that are transformational. Transformational. It’s a great word to describe John and Margie Wheeler’s commitment to the region, a commitment that lead the Cleveland Foundation to honor the Wheelers with its 2011 Frederick Harris Goff Philanthropic Service Award, which is bestowed on donors whose dedication to the community and belief in the power of philanthropy have made and will continue to make a difference in the lives of Greater Clevelanders.
“It’s very important to give back. The best way to do that
is to do something that really excites you.”
“All that really counts in life is making a difference,” John said. “There are those little niches in life where you can really make a difference.” Those niches can be filled with time, with talent, and with philanthropy, as the Wheelers have shown.
Margie’s niche, her commitment to human services, was handed down from generation to generation like a cherished heirloom. Her grandmother was active in the Maternal Health Association, a predecessor of Planned Parenthood of Greater Cleveland. Her father was involved in local nonprofits and instilled in his children the importance of giving back.
“For me, it was watching him,” Margie said. “I think he really embraced all people.”
He also insisted that his daughters make their education a priority. “He told us, ‘You cannot marry until you at least have a master’s degree,’ ” Margie recalled. She got hers in social work and, along the way, marched with civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.
John, a former Calfee Halter partner, has served on the Allegheny College board and now is senior vice president of administration at Case Western Reserve University. He is finishing his eighth and final year as mayor of Hunting Valley. He was instrumental in resuscitating the Union Club and broadening its membership to include women, minorities, and young professionals.
Margie implores others to get out of their cocoons, to “jump into another area, meet people you wouldn’t necessarily meet, hear what they say, hear different voices.”
“Find your passion. You get so much more in return,” she said. “Whatever you give, whether it is time or financially, it comes back.”
As important as it is to give, the Wheelers said, it’s equally important to pass the torch to the next generation. “After a while, you stop asking questions. You’re not going to learn much more,” Margie said. “That’s when it’s time to let someone else learn. There are a lot of talented people out there who want to learn and give.”