Wheeler passed away on November 2 at the age of 77 at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle. He was surrounded by his family, including his wife Renate, and his children. Wheeler served as Centrum’s first executive director from 1973 to 1996, and remained an active board member and fundraiser since his retirement
The housing of the service at McCurdy Pavilion reflects the fruits of Wheeler’s labor to transform of Fort Worden’s old WWI-era dirigible hangar into the 1,200-seat concert hall of McCurdy Pavilion. Together with David Marriott, the National Historic Preservation Society, and Washington State Parks, Wheeler led the capital fundraising campaign. He found matching funds for a state grant thanks to the generous support of Edmund Littlefield, Jr.; private foundations; the city of Port Townsend; and many individual donors.
“It was a remarkable community effort, and it was fun to participate in,” Wheeler said in 1997.
The pavilion, upon completion, was named after Richard F. McCurdy, who was instrumental in helping to establish Centrum in the early 1970s. The Pavilion has become the focal point for such Centrum-produced festivals as the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, Jazz Port Townsend and the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival.
Since Wheeler’s retirement from Centrum in 1996, he was active in the community in leadership positions with the Northwest Maritime Center, Jefferson General Healthcare, the Port Townsend Chamber of Commerce and other organizations. He continued to serve Centrum on its Board of Directors, and remained an active fundraiser for the organization.
He is survived by his wife, Renate; his children: Joseph F. Wheeler, Jr., Jeffrey Brad Wheeler, and Michelle Ann Blue; stepchildren Phillip Grad and Whendi Grad; and several grandchildren.
His family requests, in lieu of flowers, that contributions in memory of Joseph F. Wheeler be made to Centrum, P.O. Box 1158, Port Townsend, WA, 98368, or online.