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Man of the West Terry Wheeler Passes

By Jesse Bryant

Wednesday night, March 25, 2020, Terrence O. Wheeler passed away. Terry was an Arizona native born in Tucson on October 28, 1935. His mother Katherine “Katie” Ford, whom he often spoke fondly of, was born at Wilmot Junction, the daughter of Irish immigrants. Terry loved to tell stories about his grandmother at eighteen years old traveling to Ellis Island alone from County Cork, Ireland. He loved to recount the tale of his mother as a little girl encountering the notorious Pancho Villa while living in Bowie, Arizona. Building the Southern Pacific railway, he recounted, is what brought his grandparents from Chicago to Texas and finally to Arizona. All the epicness of the famed old west was in Terry’s blood, so it was only natural that he should live his life as a rancher.

After finishing high school in Tucson, Terry joined the navy and served his country at sea until the end of the Korean War. Upon his return to Arizona, he went to the U of A, becoming a lifelong fan of the Wildcats. There he competed as a gymnast while earning a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science. This was only the beginning of a career spanning more than fifty years of stewardship of the land. Terry married his first wife Anita and started a family, and began work as a range consultant on the San Carlos Apache reservation. Besides running his own cattle, his consulting work would take him throughout Arizona and several other states, as well as such remote locations as Jordan and Ethiopia. He formed many relationships with local leaders and local tribesmen in these places while teaching them how to sustain healthy livestock. Even into his seventies, Terry was still range consulting for other Arizona ranchers, helping them to fight off the overbearing and often threatening US Forest Service. Friends calling would find him camped out among grazing cattle with little more than a tent and a pickup truck.

Terry’s boundless wisdom for stewardship of the earth became most famous with his seldom credited invention of FLOSBees. This was his trademark philosophy of using nature to restore and vitalize itself using the animals already a part of it. “Four Legged Organic Soil Builders”, he lyrically described them. This was the idea behind his proposal to then Cypress Miami Mining Company, who was charged with cleaning up the heaps of hazardous tailings in Claypool. Terry told them that he could bring life to that dead earth using nothing but a little cattle and some hay. Terry says that at first they told him he was crazy, but eventually gave in to trying. Nothing had grown, not even a weed, on the ponds of acid dirt for over fifty years at the beginning of the project. However, by confining a large group of cows together inside a fenced area on an area spread with hay, Terry described a process where the cows eat the hay, then the hoof action digs the fresh manure and hayseed into the dirt which eventually leads to sprouts. The manure draws insects which help break down the waste into nutrients that become stored in the ground and used by the new growth. Other seeds blow in, which would draw small creatures that invited larger predators, and so on. Terry said that before long, a brand new habitat had been created and brought green life where a wasteland previous stood. The success was obvious and the plan was fully embraced by Cypress and its successors to this day. Terry regretted never patenting the process he invented, thinking practically that one could not patent nature. The process was later patented by the mining company.

The contributions of Terry Wheeler extended well beyond range work. He was a tireless advocate for natural resources and human use, serving at one time as president of the Gila County Cattle Growers Association, and as a member of the Natural Resources Conservation District. Terry’s mark on local history includes being elected to the Globe City Council on more than one occasion through the years, serving on the water committee that secured vital well access and development for the community.

Terry Wheeler. Courtesy of the Wheeler family.

His final act of public service and the height of his political career was earning his portrait placed on the wall of Mayors by his election to the office in November of 2012. After serving four years as Globe’s chief executive, Mayor Wheeler left elected officer for good. After a few less than successful surgeries, Terry’s health began to decline and his ability to get around greatly decreased. Though weakened in body, his mind remained strong to his last day, sometimes clouded with illness, still the knowledge of earth management sharp as a blade.

As a Western poet not with words but with deeds, the life of Terrence O Wheeler is now remanded to memory and eventual legend. He was a blue denim statesman, a desert sage, one of the final generation of real cowboys, and a genuine rainmaker. He fought his demons and loved his angels for eighty-four years, and has now gone to be with those whom he loved and have preceded him to the hereafter. Those who remain, his beloved wife Diana Wheeler, his four daughters and two sons, countless other offspring and relations, and those of us whose lives he shaped will not soon forget him. A private funeral will be held for immediate family members, but a soon to be announced memorial is being planned to honor the former Globe Mayor.

 

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