TSU celebrates 90th birthday of Homer R. Wheaton

[l-r] Kevin Wheaton, Vesta Wheaton, Homer Wheaton and Rise Wheaton Pope.(photo by Grant Winrow)

[l-r] Kevin Wheaton, Vesta Wheaton, Homer Wheaton and Rise Wheaton Pope. (photo by Grant Winrow)

Tennessee State University hosted a formal reception in a packed Jane Elliott Hall Auditorium on Friday, Dec. 9 to honor the man many refer to as “an instrument of change.” Family, former colleagues, students and friends attended the celebration with the theme, “Everybody Loves Mr. Wheaton.” Homer R. Wheaton turns 90 on Monday, Dec. 19, which has been declared Homer Wheaton Day.

“The fact people feel this much about me to hold such a wonderful reception in my honor is just a great feeling; I am just grateful,” said Wheaton, surrounded by his wife, Vesta; son, Kevin; and daughter Rise Wheaton Pope, and their families.

“This institution has made such a tremendous contribution to the life that I ended up having. I never would assume that I would have had the life that I had to be able to meet and help a lot of people to achieve success. This is something I feel good about. I have a very strong commitment to helping people.”

Over a span of nearly 50 years, Wheaton served TSU as director of Field Services and Extension, special assistant to former TSU President Walter Davis, director of Financial Aid, and vice president of University Relations and Development.

TSU President Glenda Glover, a TSU alumna, touted Wheaton’s generosity, which she said made it possible for her to stay in school when her parents could not afford her semester tuition. She referred to Wheaton as a “servant leader and legend at TSU, who is caring, trustworthy and giving.”

“Wheaton’s name is synonymous with student success,” Glover said. “Today is indeed a special moment in the history of our institution, as we pay tribute to a man who epitomizes love for TSU. He has touched the lives of so many.”

As director of financial aid, Wheaton helped thousands of students secure funding to attend TSU, and personally helped students to thrive and succeed, said Grant Winrow, special assistant to President Glover and director of special projects. Winrow said Wheaton’s “tough love” helped him stay on track as a student at TSU.

“Mr. Homer Wheaton is the definition of a legend in higher education,” said Winrow, who spearheaded the effort to honor Wheaton. “He is legendary in the sense of how many people he’s impacted.”

His sense of persuasion led to the recruitment of legendary football coach John Merritt, and subsequently placed TSU football on the world map for its winning ways. When Merritt would not accept President Walter S. Davis’ offer of the coaching position, Davis gave Wheaton the assignment of influencing the coach to accept. With Homer’s intervention, Merritt accepted the offer, and brought Joe Gilliam, Sr., and Alvin Coleman, Sr., legends themselves, as part of Merritt’s staff.

As part of the Dec. 9 celebration, the university launched the “$90 For Ninety Scholarship Fundraiser” in support of Wheaton’s continued philanthropic endeavors at the institution. To contribute to the Homer R. Wheaton Scholarship Fund, visit www.tnstate.edu/alumni/wheaton.aspx