Jerry Wheeler passed away on February 28, 2021, at Home + Hospice House Monument Health in Rapid City, SD, after a 22-year courageous battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
Jerry was born October 27, 1942, to Howard and Grace Wheeler at Montrose, SD. After graduating from Montrose High School in 1960, he moved to Sioux Falls where he held positions with Kolman Manufacturing and L. G. Everist. In 1964, Jerry completed his associates degree in accounting from Nettleton Commercial College. In 1967, he joined the South Dakota Automobile Dealers Association and three years later was named the Executive Director of that organization. During his tenure with the Auto Dealers, he attended Institutes of Organizational Management at both Michigan State University and Notre Dame University. In 1987, Jerry left his position with the Auto and Trucking Association to experience the retail side of the auto industry. In 1990, he again entered the trade association business when the South Dakota Retailers Association hired him as their Executive Director.
Jerry married Kelly Donahue in 1986. The couple lived and worked in Pierre for 18 years before retiring and moving to the Black Hills. They had many happy years of retirement, spending summers in the beautiful Black Hills and winters in Arizona and California.
Jerry was an inspiration and role model for association executives across South Dakota and the nation. There have been few association directors past or present who could create the kind of robust and impressive organizations that Jerry built over the years. He was a tenacious leader during his tenure as a trade association director and lobbyist; being recognized for his ability as a troubleshooter and problem-solver. Jerry was able to bring people together and understood the need for compromise when working through the legislative process. He earned a reputation as an honest and trustworthy lobbyist. Calm in the face of conflict, but strong and forceful when necessary, Jerry could fight the good fight, believing in the issues and people he represented.
One of his strengths was knowing when to admit he didn’t know something, but then used his energy to go find the answer. Never forgetting where he came from, Jerry believed in hard work and the success it brings. He was a true South Dakota boy who loved his family, his country and maintained a strong faith in God throughout his life. Jerry served as the Chairman of the South Dakota Court Appointed Special Advocates, President of the Black Hills Playhouse Board of Directors, and a Ft. Pierre City Council member. He received many awards including the National Retail Federation award in recognition for life-time achievement in the retail industry and most recently the SD Chamber of Commerce and Industry 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Jerry worked hard but he also played hard. His leisure activities included lawn work, golf, tennis, skiing, horseback riding and cheering on his beloved Minnesota Vikings. Jerry’s favorite saying was, “You can’t have too much fun.” and he followed his own advice. His story telling was legendary and he will be greatly missed by family and friends who enjoyed his sense of humor.
Jerry is survived by his wife Kelly of 34 years, his two sons from his first marriage, Greg (Dawn) of Sioux Falls and Steve of Lawrenceville, GA, and three grandchildren, Sidra, Jake, Griffin and step-granddaughter Skyler Neiers.
Jerry was blessed with many caring and competent health care professionals throughout his illness. Special recognition is sent to Monument Home Health and Hospice and to Dr. Joy Falkenberg of Custer for her many years of exceptional care as Jerry’s personal physician.
Mass of Christian Burial will be at 1:00 PM on Thursday, March 4, 2021, at Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Rapid City. Internment will take place at 2:00 PM (CST) on Friday, March 5, 2021, at St. Patrick Cemetery in Montrose, SD. Memorials may be sent to the Jerry Wheeler Scholarship Fund at the SD Retailers Association or the Black Hills Playhouse.
Arrangements are under the care of the Fidler-Isburg Funeral Chapels and Isburg Crematory of Spearfish. Online condolences may be written at www.fidler-isburgfuneralchapels.com