Phyllis L. Wheeler, 92, of Monmouth, Illinois, passed away peacefully in her sleep at 2:34 AM on Monday, August 17, 2020 at Courtyard Estates in Monmouth.
She was born on March 28, 1928 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the daughter of the late Orpha (Elness) and Clarence Holmquist, and big sister to brothers Charles and Jon Holmquist, who survive her. Phyllis grew up in Albert Lea, Minnesota, and graduated from Albert Lea High School before attending Monmouth College. While at Monmouth, she met fellow student Philip J. Wheeler, whom she married on June 26, 1949, after graduating with a degree in Education. They lived in Monmouth while Phil completed college in 1950, then in Industry, Illinois , in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and in Boone, and Spencer, Iowa before returning to Monmouth in 1961, where Phil was Manager of the Spurgeon’s Department Store on Main Street for many years before they bought the Wirtz Corner store on Broadway. They moved to Minnesota in 1983, where they started and ran a candy business for many years, but returned to Monmouth once again in 1993. Four years later, Phil passed away suddenly, on February 19, 1997. Despite many health challenges thereafter, Phyllis was able to stay in her home in Monmouth for the next 21 years.
Phyllis began her teaching career in a one-room schoolhouse at the corner of U.S. 67 and the Burgess road between Monmouth and Viola. She later worked as a substitute and homebound teacher before returning to full time teaching in the Mathematics Department at Monmouth High School in 1968, ending as department chairperson and class advisor to many graduating classes. She retired in 1983, beloved by hundreds of her students.
Those students included her 3 children, who survive her: Paul (Marianne) Wheeler, Barbara (Larry) Byrne, and Ron (Etienne) Wheeler. She is also survived by her grandchildren Allison (Paul) Quaintance, Nathan (Becca) Wheeler, and Kate (Mike) Kirwan, Patrick (Kate) Byrne, Stephanie (Dominick) Reading, Peter (Kassidy) Byrne, and Megan (Connor) Gillen. Finally, she was also a beloved great-grandma (“GG”) to 11, great-great-grandma, and beloved aunt and cousin to countless other relatives on both sides of the Atlantic. As she herself wrote some years back: “I’ve been so blessed in my earthly life!”
She also blessed others with her volunteer work. Volunteerism was central to her life, all her life. In Monmouth, she served as a Deacon, Sunday School teacher, church choir member, and Wednesday Night Live volunteer at Faith United Presbyterian church; Girl Scout leader and council member; Cub Scouts den mother; Jamieson Center founding Board and Program Director helping launch the Head Start and other social service programs; OSF Auxiliary and hospital volunteer; Alternatives for the Older Adult; American Cancer Society; Maple Leaf Concert Series Board; and tutoring at Lincoln School. She also volunteered with the Inter Church Association (ICA) in Minnesota.
Beyond her professional and volunteer work, her life revolved around home, family and friends. Before she returned to teaching full-time, she was famous for her multiple Scandinavian Smorgasbord parties every Christmas season, and remained a “hostess with the mostest” until just a few years ago. Those who knew her also know that she loved to play cards, bingo and other games. She was a famously excellent bridge player and member of several local bridge groups. She also enjoyed puzzles, knitting, sewing, reading, golf and camping when she was able.
At the end of her long, rich life she was cared for with love by the staff at Courtyard Estates and Hospice Compassus who helped her transition peacefully back to her Creator. She leaves a lasting legacy that will live on in her beloved family and all of the people and students that she touched through the years.
A private family service and burial is planned. A Celebration of Life will be held at a later date to be determined. Memorials may be left to Jamieson Center or to Monmouth College’s Philip J. Wheeler ’50 Memorial Prize in Literature, which will be expanded to include Phyllis’s name and an Education-based prize in her memory.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Phyllis L. Wheeler, please visit our floral store.