The Bard of the Badlands is Laid to Rest
L. Ray Wheeler passed away, peacefully, in his sleep very early Tuesday, November 27, 2018 with his “guardian angel” by his side at St. Benedict’s Health Center in Dickinson. There will be a Celebration of Life Service at 2 p.m., Saturday, May 4, 2019 at St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Lawrence Raymond Wheeler was born on June 24, 1940. He was the middle son with two sisters, Marilyn, 4 years older, and Nancy, 10 years younger, in Kansas City, Kansas where he was raised. His father called him Larry, but he never liked the name and went by/was known as Ray his whole life. He was preceded in death by his parents and sisters and two dogs.
Ray was graduated from the University of Kansas, in Pittsburg, KS in 1965 and moved to Dickinson, accepting his first and last job offer at Dickinson State University where he taught for 46 years. He spent most of that time in the English Department, but also taught journalism, general humanities and philosophy. Freshman composition was his favorite course to teach.
Ray earned the graduate degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English from UND in Grand Forks in 1971, and along with it, he received the proud title of Dr. Wheeler.
In many ways he lived a charmed life. He loved teaching. His friends were artists; talented and creative people. In 1969-1976ish Ray edited the Dickinson Review with all of his best friends, Everett Albers, and/or William Fleming, Cliff Hallam as co-editors, Dennis Navrat creating cover designs and James Tate as Poetry Editor. Their “hope was to call greater attention to relatively unknown writers.”
For most of his life, Ray woke up early to get to his office to write before he taught his first class. He loved writing and wrote novels, plays, short stories and poetry. A few of his plays were staged at DSU, again, in collaboration with some with his best friends including Jean Waldera and Ed Sahlstrom. One of his plays was performed off-Broadway in New York.
Ray also excelled on the stage, transforming into William Jennings Bryan and other characters in the traveling summer productions of Chautauqua that toured the upper Midwest in the 1980s.
He immersed himself in the culture, lore, history and beauty of the Great Plains. He was a lifelong student of the Native American tribes of the Midwest, plains agriculture, and the history of Dickinson and North Dakota. He made bells out of melted beer cans with his prairie artist friends. He was fascinated by the old combines perched at the edge of wheat fields and took many pictures of them, followed by much research. He got to know the birds and their songs, and many indigenous trees, grasses and flowers of the prairie.
Ray was an outstanding gardener, with corn, tomatoes and garlic as his favorite/best crops. His lawn was impeccable and his gardens were a labor of love. For most of his life, Ray was very active. He loved playing tennis, riding his bike, swimming and running/jogging. He was a skilled carpenter.
Ray leaves his daughter Cindy [west coast] and son Tim [east coast], grandson Richard, and granddaughter Montana and many wonderful friends. He is gone but will never be forgotten.