Kenneth B. (ìKegî) Wheeler, 91, of Zirconia, NC, died at Elizabeth House, Four Seasons Hospice in Flat Rock on Monday, September 10, 2012. He served many productive years as director of physical education for the school children of Henderson County, Head Counselor of Camp Arrowhead for Boys, Marine Corps veteran of World War II and Korea, wilderness instructor with Outward Bound, and a living example of fitness and health.
Keg was born on May 19, 1921, in Wilmington, NC, the fourth child of the late Rev. William Hardin and Lula Richter Dowe Wheeler. In his infancy the family moved to Charlotte where his father served the next 18 years as Superintendant of Thompsonís Orphanage. A gifted athlete, Keg played football for Central High School and was selected for the 1941 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game. He volunteered for the Marines after Pearl Harbor, completed bombardier training, and served in combat with a long-range photographic reconnaissance squadron in the South Pacific.
Returning home to Charlotte in 1945, Keg played football one year at Wake Forest, studied veterinary science at South Georgia College, then transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for undergraduate and masterís degrees in physical education. Recalled to active duty as a Marine Gunnery Sergeant during the Korean War, Keg trained recruits for combat at Camp Lejeune, NC until receiving his honorable discharge. On August 26, 1952, Keg married Jo Anne Dingus, whom he met during a picnic for the counselors of Camp Arrowhead and Camp Glen Arden for Girls.
For the next 14 years, Keg taught physical education and coached various sports at Auburn University and Clinch Valley College, in Wise, Virginia. While in his 40s, Keg won the ìcaber tossingî competition three times at the annual Grandfather Mountain Highlands Games.
In 1965 the Wheelers returned to the mountains of North Carolina, and Keg accepted the new position of director of physical education training for the elementary school students of Henderson County. He created landmark, inexpensive elementary PE and outdoor-education programs that became state and national models. He adapted PE for the handicapped. Later, he was invited by the leading educational publisher Prentice Hall to compile his teaching methods and activities in a textbook for elementary school teachers. Published in 1991 with co-author Otto Spilker, Physical Education Curriculum Activities Kit for Grades K-6 described and illustrated more than 500 fitness, dance, and sports activities. The book was widely used throughout the state and beyond. In 2003 Keg was inducted into the Henderson County Education Foundation Hall of Fame.
During his many summers as Head Counselor at Camp Arrowhead, Keg initiated memorable traditions like the infamous ìPot Hole Award,î earned by submerging oneself at daybreak in an icy, waterfall sinkhole on five consecutive mornings.
In the 1970s he became a counselor for North Carolina Outward Bound, guiding seniors through self-discovery courses in the wilderness. Later he taught physical education techniques to PE teachers at UNC Asheville.
Keg was an active member of St. Johns in the Wilderness Episcopal Church in Flat Rock for nearly 50 years, serving on the Vestry as the Junior Warden, and organizing the Menís Breakfast Club, and developing the Lay Eucharistic Ministry to deliver Holy Communion sacraments to homebound parishioners.
Keg was preceded in death by his sisters, Sarah (Sally) Wheeler Alexander and Jean Wheeler Pharr, and his brother, William Hardin Wheeler, Jr. He is survived by Jo Anne, his wife of 60 years; their daughter Cynthia (Cindy) Ann Wheeler of Auburn, CA, and son, Kenneth (Tad) Bradford Wheeler, Jr. of Bat Cave, NC; three grand-children, Sally Virginia Lee in Rome, Italy, Jessica Anne Wheeler of Forest City, NC, and William Patrick Lee, of Asheville, NC; and seven nieces and nephews: William B. Wheeler of Southport, NC, Edward B. Wheeler of Morganton, NC, James Hardin Wheeler of Auckland, New Zealand, Jeannie Pharr Gilland and Henry N. Pharr of Charlotte, NC, William T. Alexander of Hagerstown, MD, and Joseph H. Alexander of Asheville.
Keg loved school children, dogs, wildflowers, teaching, whittling, rafting, boxing, hiking the mountains around his ridge-top home, and life itself.
A Memorial Service will be held on September 13th at 10AM at St. Johnís in the Wilderness Episcopal Church in Flat Rock, with the Rev. John Morton and the Rev. Alex Viola officiating. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in memory of the Henderson County Education Foundation ìKeg Wheeler Outdoor Education Fund,î PO Box 1267, Hendersonville, NC 28793.
The family is grateful for the care and comfort provided by the staff at Elizabeth House and the clergy and congregation of St Johns in the Wilderness Church.