UT Professor and Historian Bruce Wheeler Honored

KNOXVILLE — Longtime East Tennessee historian and University of Tennessee history professor Bruce Wheeler is being honored by a group of former students, community leaders and UT colleagues in a manner that will ensure that his legacy lives on.

Wheeler, UT professor emeritus, was surprised by the announcement that fundraising is well underway for the university’s new W. Bruce Wheeler Endowment. The fund will support student research in early American History, Wheeler’s own area of study.

University of Tennessee history professor emeritus Bruce Wheeler

He was first told of the endowment at a tribute event held Nov. 3 to celebrate his community service and the release of the new edition of his book -Knoxville, Tennessee – A Mountain City in the New South.-

The event was held in partnership with UT-s College of Arts and Sciences, UT National Alumni Association, Leadership Knoxville, Leadership Sevier, the East Tennessee Historical Society, City of Knoxville, and Knox County.

A UT professor since 1970, Wheeler is a highly regarded community leader and best known for knowledge and insight about the region.

-In terms of his written work on the history of Knoxville and East Tennessee, and given his thousands of public lectures throughout the state, I think Bruce Wheeler may be the most influential historian in the history of the university, and is certainly the best-known, and most beloved historian in the state,- said History Department Head Todd Diacon.

A graduate of both Leadership Knoxville and Leadership Sevier, Wheeler is one of the organizations- most popular speakers. He has helped newcomers get better acquainted with their new home by speaking at all 13 of the Introduction to Knoxville sessions.

-Dr. Wheeler is one of our community-s greatest treasures,- said Jeannie Delaney, president and chief executive officer for Leadership Knoxville. -His insights and analysis of the history of our region have provided the foundation for lively discussion through the years, not only of our past but also our present and future. We are grateful for the role he has played in our organization and our graduates are very pleased to honor him in this way.-

Wheeler has been recognized many times for his teaching and outreach to students. UT-s National Alumni Association named him outstanding teacher in 1980 and 1986. He twice received the university-s annual L.R. Hesler Award for teaching and service to students – in 1979 and 1997. In 2002, the National Alumni Association awarded him its top award for public service.

-Bruce Wheeler was the first professor who appeared to take me, or anyone I knew, seriously as scholars and as adults. It wasn’t just that he called us all `Mr.- or `Miss.- It was that he made a big assumption about all of us. He assumed that we were eager not only to learn but to take an active role in our own educations. For the first time, it wasn’t a one-way street. He wanted something from us, too. Something that he made us believe was of great value,- said David Granger, who graduated in 1978 with a double major in English and history and is now editor of Esquire magazine.

Rick Sanderson, a 1978 honors history graduate, who is now the national business development director for Nationwide Insurance, has maintained a lifelong relationship with his favorite professor.

-Dr. Bruce Wheeler epitomizes the teacher we all had at some point in our lives who had such a profound effect on us that he or she shaped the way we viewed to world. He influenced so many of us in the way we advanced in our careers by being an exemplary role model. He was one of the people who truly believed in us, motivated us and inspired us,- said Sanderson, who became one of Wheeler-s closest friends.

A graduate of Duke, the University of North Carolina and the University of Virginia, Wheeler came to UT-s history department in 1970 after holding professional positions at three other universities. From 1988 to 1994, he directed the University Honors Program. He has served as advisor for student summer orientation, liberal arts advising center, the UT Knoxville Chapter of the Golden Key National Honor Society and the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.

Before attaining emeritus status earlier this year, he taught graduate level courses and seminars and led many students through master-s theses and doctoral dissertations. Along with the early nation from years 1780 to 1820 period, he-s a scholar of the new South and East Tennessee. He has authored several other books, including -TVA and the Tellico Dam: A Bureaucratic Crisis in Post-Industrial America- and -Knoxville, Tennessee: Continuity and Change in an Appalachian City- with co-author Michael McDonald.

A resident of Wears Valley, Wheeler is chairman of the board for the Wears Valley Fire Department and on the board of directors for the Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Medical Clinic. He teaches Sunday school and serves as a lay minister in his community. He also sings in a gospel quartet and has sung old harp music locally for many years.

He and his wife, Judy, have been married for 44 years and have one daughter, Kathy. She currently is finishing a Ph.D. in architecture history at MIT.
Since his retirement, Wheeler has been working on an updated version of UT history.

For more information about the W. Bruce Wheeler Endowment, please contact Polly Laffitte at 865-974-8478 or plaffitte@utk.edu.