James E. Wheeler was born to M.E. and Murray (Hart) Wheeler, the fourth of five children in Erick, Oklahoma. James was a proud tribal member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. James spent his early childhood in Erick, Sentinel and Clayton, Oklahoma before the family moved to Sanford, Texas where he grew up. He received his education and graduated from Phillips High School in Borger, Texas; Marin Community College in Kentfield, California where he played basketball and West Texas State University in Canyon, Texas.
In 1965, James began his career in petroleum when moved to Liberal, Kansas with lifelong friend and mentor, Don Rash and childhood friend, Barry Steagall and four others to help Don launch Rash Oil Company. There, he met the love of his life, Regina, and they married in her hometown of Ulysses, Kansas on September 12, 1965. They made their home in Liberal and the Kismet-Plains area. They had a son, Don and a daughter, Shanda. James proudly served in the US Army at Fort Benning and Fort Bliss and then the US Army Reserves through 1971. James continued his career in Southwest Kansas for years with Rash Oil and Northern Natural Gas. He moved to Houston, Texas with Enron and finally spent nearly two decades in California with Mojave Operating Company, part of El Paso Natural Gas. He retired in 2010.
James and Regina split their time in retirement between their homes in Alto, New Mexico and the Lubbock, Texas area. They recently relocated to Durant, Oklahoma. His grandsons were the light of his life. He was never happier than when he was supporting their activities, enjoying their adventures together or teaching them how to rewire things, how to conduct and insulate electrical circuits or weld. James was an avid reader and lifelong learner and jokester, often pulling pranks and having fun. He enjoyed fishing, golf, Kansas Jayhawks basketball, the Dallas Cowboys, mathematics, dancing with his wife or daughter, the horse races and playing cards. For many years he team roped with his father-in-law, Ray and friend Mike Childers. He was proud of his family, a loyal friend and his word was his bond. To his friends and family, he was known as Bones. He did everything with excellence and humility and could fix just about anything. He never met a swimming pool pump he didn’t fight and always bet on gray horse. He also enjoyed raising horses and cattle for many years alongside his father-in-law in a family venture in Kansas that also extended to New Mexico and Colorado through the years.
James was a lifetime member of The Elks Lodge and also actively served in the Liberal and Plains, Kansas and Bakersfield, California Lions Club. He supported the Southwestern Heights Boosters for all the years his children were in the USD 483 system. He was a member of the American Society of Metals. James was a Christian and a member of the J Bar J Church of Ruidoso, New Mexico.
He was preceded in death by his parents; M.E. Wheeler and Murray (Hart) Wheeler; two sisters Phyllis Helmer and Carolyn McElroy; one brother Ed Wheeler and in-laws Ray Erlene Fogleman.
He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Regina; son Don of Holquaim, Washington; daughter Shanda Wheeler Kelso and son-in-law William Kelso of Durant, Oklahoma; grandsons Aaron James Wheeler of Cameron , Missouri, Brody Peyton Kelso of Norman, Oklahoma; sister Charlotte Garlington of Irving, Texas and numerous nieces and nephews.
Cremation arrangements were under the direction of Gordon Funeral Home of Durant, Oklahoma.
A family visitation will take place on Saturday, October 16th at 1:00 PM at the Miller Mortuary Chapel, 908 N Lincoln Ave. in Liberal, KS under direction of James' nephew Gene McElroy.
Memorials can be sent to Miller Mortuary, PO Box 826 Liberal, KS 67905-0826 for the family or in tribute to James at Texas Boys Ranch PO Box 5665 Lubbock, TX 79408; Post ARC PO Box 13 Post, TX 79356 or a favorite charity.
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