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Hiawatha mourns loss of historian
by Cynthia Petersen Correspondent · October 31st, 2016

Author Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate; to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well."

But what Emerson fails to mention is that if you live your life well, and strive to make a difference, happiness will naturally follow.

Edie Wheeler was a great example of this. The long-time Hiawatha resident died Sept. 11, and not only left a hole in the hearts of those who knew and loved her, but as the chairperson of the history committee, she left big shoes to fill.

"Edie loved Hiawatha," said her husband. "She loved the town and she loved the people. She touched a lot of lives. A lot of people are going to miss her."

Born May 3, 1938, Edie died after undergoing surgery to stop a brain bleed at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. According to Jim, she passed away at 6:44 a.m., her favorite time of day.

"She liked to sit at the window every morning and watch the sun come up," said Jim. "The police chief (Dennis Marks) would wave to her on his way to work every morning, and she'd wave back."

Marks said each morning he would see her sitting near the Wheelers' picture window.

"She would always wave and have a great big smile on her face," he said. "I enjoyed seeing her, and waved back to her every day. I still wave every morning."

Marks said Edie was always so worried about all first responders. "Every time I would see her, she would place her hand on my arm and say, 'I think about you guys all the time.' I know she did and she truly was a caring person. I cannot ever remember seeing her without a smile on her face. She was just so very happy and positive to be around."

Edie leaves behind her husband Jim; three children, Rob, Rick, and Renee; three grandchildren, Tim, Erin, and Laycee; and two great-grandchildren; Willow and Emmett.

Jim and Edie met at the

Thomas Park swimming pool when they were teenagers.

"I lived in Marion and I'd ride my bike down Blairs Ferry Road, over the viaduct, just to see her," he said with a grin.

The two were married in 1957 at the Little Brown Church in Nashua.

Jim served with the Armed Forces, and when he came home, the couple bought their first home on 6th Avenue in Hiawatha. They've called Hiawatha home ever since.

"Edie was my cheerleader," said Jim. "I was on a bowling league for 35 years, and she'd come with me when I went on the road, cheering for me, whether I won or lost. She'd sit in the stands when I coached baseball and softball, and at practices, too. She went to all the kids' sporting events and cheered for them, too."

And when Jim volunteered for the fire department, Edie served in the auxiliary right next to him, helping any way she could.

Edie worked at Kresge's while attending high school at Franklin, graduating in 1956. She enrolled in Paris Beauty Academy and graduated the same year she and Jim were married. Through the years, she has also worked at Sears, Rockwell Collins, and at Harding Junior High, where she was the "ice cream" lady for eight years.

"Even though she went to beauty school, she never worked in salons," said Jim. He added that she did her friends' hair and volunteered at New Horizons, where Renee worked, cutting hair for the disabled. Edie was also a volunteer at the Hiawatha Care Center for many years.

Edie loved spending time with her family traveling, going on cruises, fishing, and camping trips. However, she spent the last few years of her life dedicated to preserving the history of Hiawatha.

According to Jim, Edie was featured in a video for the history committee almost four years ago. The rest is history.

"The video was so good, they asked her to be the chairperson for the committee, which she took on with a passion," said Jim. "She envisioned that someday there would be a Hiawatha museum, where people could go and get a first-hand account of what Hiawatha was like in the early days. Family always came first, but the committee was definitely a close second."

Edie is buried at Shiloh Cemetery in Hiawatha on land that was sold to the city by Edie's grandparents for $50, according to Jim, under the condition that it be used specifically to "bury the dead."

"Edie's grandparents owned a lot of land along Blairs Ferry Road. They owned a barn that was used as a model in a well-known Marvin Cone painting, Cook's Barn. It was located about where St. Andrew's Golf Course is now," said Jim.

By researching her family's history, Edie found out that in 1883 her grandparents let Indians, passing through the country, stay on their land, (on the banks of Dry Creek).

"They would let the Indians come in and warm themselves by the fire when it got too cold," said Renee.

"It must run in the family, because my mom was such a giving and compassionate person. She never complained about anything, even after she had her knee surgery. She was more worried about how it was affecting us than how it affected her. She didn't want to be a burden. Always thinking about others, that's just who she was."

Renee recently published a book called "Gracie's Adventures," which is based on her own adventures.

"My mother was a wonderful role model, and taught me a lot about life, especially how to treat people. She also supported us and encouraged us to do our best, no matter what it was we were doing."

Jim added that it wasn't just her own children that Edie took an interest in, but all children.

"Edie loved all kids. It didn't matter who they were; she loved them all. There wasn't a kid in the neighborhood that didn't get a valentine, or a special treat bag for Halloween, or a card on their birthday. She made sure they knew they were important."

City Clerk, Kelly Kornegor, said Edie was one of the biggest supporters of Hiawatha she has ever known.

"Not only did Edie love Hiawatha, but she was very close to the city administrator and myself," she said. "She treated us like we were her daughters. She would call every week to check in on me and worry if I didn't call her back right away. She had a big heart for people who were close to her."

Kornegor added that Edie was extremely proud to live in Hiawatha, and she took great pride in serving on the History Committee.

"She had so much energy and spunk, and a love for life. I am so glad I had the pleasure of knowing her and working with her."
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