John Dennis Wheaton
September 22, 1936 - December 26. 2012
John Dennis Wheaton died Wednesday, December 26, in Lewiston, Maine. He was 76 years old.
John was born in Biddeford, Maine, on September 22, 1936 to the late Frank and Caroline (Cyr) Wheaton. John grew up in Saco and attended Thornton Academy where he was an accomplished student-athlete. He was the Vice President of his class, lettered in baseball and basketball, and graduated as class valedictorian in 1954. John was chosen as a Union Carbide Scholar, one of only 30 nationally. Although of very humble origins, he often commented on what a wonderful childhood he enjoyed in Saco.
After Thornton, John attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he was very active in student life, participating in various committees and serving as Vice President of the Student Council. He also played baseball and basketball and contributed to the Bowdoin Orient newspaper. John excelled academically and was named a James Bowdoin Scholar, the highest academic recognition. He was elected Class Secretary and served on every reunion committee. John cherished the many close friendships he formed while at Bowdoin and remained a loyal Bowdoin alumnus until his death.
Following his graduation from Bowdoin College in 1958, he joined the United States Army as part of the ROTC program, receiving training at Ft. Benning in Georgia and at Ft. Devens in Massachusetts. After his honorable discharge from the Army as a First Lieutenant, John remained active in the Army reserves for several years.
John then accepted a position with the Union Carbide management development program at their corporate headquarters in New York City. In the early 1960’s, he returned to Maine and joined his father-in-law, Emilio Vangeli, and his brother-in-law, Carlo Vangeli, in running Steckino’s Restaurant in Lewiston. A large and successful restaurant, Steckino’s was recognized as the place to dine in central Maine and was known for its wide selection of fine Italian and American foods and personal service. The famed Starlight Room was among the most coveted places to be at lunch or dinner.
After selling Steckino’s in 1986, John started and ran a successful home appraisal business, Wheaton & Company, from which he retired in 2009.
John served the Lewiston community in leadership roles with many civic organizations. In 1961, he co-authored with Donald A. Roux a study of vocational education in Maine. Presentation of their findings to the Maine Legislature helped secure legislation enabling the creation of CMVTI (now Central Maine Community College.) He served on the Lewiston Board of Education for several years, and was a longtime trustee of Mid Maine Mutual Savings Bank (now TD Bank). John also wrote speeches for his friend Governor James Longley, who took advantage of John’s knowledge of both history and the affairs of the day, his understanding of people, and his flair with a pen. He served on Mr. Longley’s inauguration committee.
Close friends would describe John as not only well liked, but both a gentleman and a gentle man. He had a great wit and a welcoming manner, and took pleasure in engaging in conversation with anyone from any walk of life on just about any subject.
John enjoyed spending time with his family and supporting them in all their activities. He took up skiing in his twenties and the Wheatons enjoyed many ski trips together, travelling all over New England, Canada and even to Switzerland. John chronicled many of those trips in a regular column for the Lewiston Sun called “Ski-Doodling”. In 1969, John reported from the World Cup races which allowed his family to spend time with famed skier Jean Claude Killy. In addition to skiing, John also enjoyed sailing and entertaining friends and family at the piano.
John loved literature and the arts and remained intellectually curious throughout his life. He believed strongly in the importance of hard work and the profound benefits of a good education. He counseled many Lewiston students on continuing their education and even took them on college tours, expecting nothing in return but the hope that they would achieve a better life.
In addition to his parents, John was predeceased by his brother-in-law, business partner and dear friend, Carlo Vangeli.
He leaves his wife of 54 years, Theresa Vangeli Wheaton of Lewiston and South Harpswell; his sisters-in-law, Angela Vangeli Fox of Cumberland and Judith Vangeli of Manchester; his daughter Pamela Jill Duggan and her husband, Neil, of Monmouth; his son, J. Timothy and wife Barbara and their children Matthew, Lindsay and Bennett of Yarmouth, several nieces and nephews, and many dear friends.
A celebration of John’s extraordinary life will be held in the Spring.
The Wheaton family expresses its heartfelt appreciation to the many skilled and compassionate caregivers who provided wonderful support over the years.
In lieu of flowers and in keeping with John’s lifetime commitment to education and helping others, donations can be made to the Mitchell Institute Scholarship Fund, 22 Monument Square, Suite 200, Portland, ME 04101, dedicated to helping Maine students expand their opportunities and improve their quality of life.