BY MARCY SHORTUSE – On Thursday, May 20, a sign was quietly placed on the wall of one of the rooms of the Boca Grande Community Center, but in that quiet moment a legacy was honored. The new name for the Multi-purpose Room, a large room that is located in the east wing of the Community Center, is now the Dee Wheeler Multi-Purpose Room. A quote at the bottom of the sign says it all: “May the work I have done speak for me.”
Delorese “Dee” Wheeler, the late wife of Capt. Dumplin’ Wheeler, mother to two daughters and much-loved surrogate mother to countless others, passed away on May 12, 2017, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of many Boca Grande families. She loved the island’s children, and her love for them grew into a profession that she would hold for decades.
Dee started working with island children in the mid-1970s. She started working with Lee County Parks and Recreation in 1975 and created the summer camp program that we still have today. She was also vitally important in the creation of the Halloween Carnival (her favorite), the annual Easter egg hunt, the Spring Bike Parade, and much more. In 1984 Dee started the Boca Grande Preschool Program, and in 1986 worked with others to create a reference room where island students could find materials to do their homework.
In 2008, the Friends of Boca Grande Community Center created the Dee Wheeler Children’s Fund to honor Dee for her three decades of service, and her tireless efforts in creating many of the programs at the Community Center that benefited the children of our community. Summer camp was a program that was always near and dear to Dee, and children and their families who attend summer camp, as well as Island School aftercare (another program she helped to create), have benefited from this fund.
The matter of renaming the room was taken before the Lee County Board of County Commissioners in the latter part of 2020, but the placement of the plaque officially naming the Multi-purpose Room as the Dee Wheeler Room just recently took place.
Last year we reported that Dee’s daughters, Brandy Wheeler Jenner and Stephanie, Wheeler Taylor, had made the request of commissioners to honor their mother by naming the room after her. It is appropriate, as the room is integral in the activities of children for aftercare for The Island School, and for summer camp activities. It has also been used as a lunchroom for The Island School as well.
In 1990 Lee County gave Dee a special merit award for “demonstrating an unusual job interest which results in a high quality and quantity of work output.” That may have been a rather formal way to say that Dee went above and beyond every day to help her community, but it was a high honor just the same. In all, Dee spent 34 years at the Boca Grande Community Center, and many of the activities and traditions we enjoy every year commemorate her work. Generations of Boca Grande families have benefited from her influence, her love, and most certainly her hard work.