Tom Wheeler has been likened to the Energizer Bunny. He is here, there, and everywhere. To see him in action is like watching an endless whirlwind of inexhaustible motion.
Whether he’s running the town hall meetings, making county decisions as the 5th district supervisor, working behind the scenes at the annual CrabFest, walking the Relay for Life lap as a cancer survivor, reading to elementary school students to honor Dr. Seuss, participating in ground breaking ceremonies, emceeing the annual EMC SCPA Animal Fair, or serving as the chairman of San Joaquin Valley Air Quality Board to improve air quality - he’s always sporting a huge smile, carrying himself in a relaxed, comfortable stride.
He now has yet another honor under his belt as he makes room in his hectic schedule for the Coarsegold Rodeo - something he has routinely attended over the years. This year is a little different, though. Wheeler has been selected as the 63rd Coarsegold Rodeo Grand Marshal.
“Tom was chosen because he has supported the rodeo for years, he has helped out on Heritage Days, and now it’s his turn to be Grand Marshal,” Pat Strimling, treasurer for the Coarsegold Rodeo Association said.
“When Pat called me with the news, she said ‘sit down, Tom.’ I thought okay, what I’d I do now?”
When Wheeler heard he had been selected as Grand Marshal, he could sit no longer, jumping to his feet to dance the “Okie stomp.”
“I was shocked. I’ve attended meetings as much as I can, and have done what I could to help keep the rodeo going,” Wheeler said. “I’ve known most of the past grand marshals and all the things they’ve done over the years, so to be placed in that same category is unbelievable to me.”
Wheeler moved to the Mountain Area as a teen in 1958. In 1959, his family settled in North Fork, and young Tom graduated from Sierra High School in Tollhouse two years later. He worked at the North Fork Lumber Mill, and as a caretaker at Frank Wyle’s Circle W. Ranch, where in 1979, after 11 years, he became ranch manager, working there for a total of 41 years, mainly building fences or corrals, rounding up and branding cattle, and riding horses.
Besides horses, an alternative mode of transportation on Wheeler’s top favorites is race cars, which he drove for nearly 20 years. To this day, he still attends races, and continues to sell replica die cast race cars, which are shipped worldwide, through E-Bay.
He has a laundry list of accomplishments and a long history of volunteering, including serving more than 18 years as a trustee of various school boards, such as Sierra High, North Fork Elementary, and Chawanakee School District. He was the recipient of the Golden Apple Award for Education. Wheeler was a long-time member and president of the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts.
He was named NF Citizen of the Year in 1984, was an active participant in the Jamboree for decades, ran the Jamboree for more than 20 years, and in 1999, served as grand marshal North Fork’s Loggers Jamboree.
All this was prior to his being sworn in, at age 63, as the new Madera County District 5 Supervisor on Jan. 2, 2007. During the race for the position, Wheeler reassured the community that he would be a full-time supervisor, and he has kept that promise “24/7.”
At the time, his main concerns were water issues, growth problems, and fire safe roads to ensure all residents had an escape route in case of emergency. They remain his principal concerns today. While he’s an advocate of good, planned, and managed growth, retaining the Mountain Area lifestyle is equally important to him.
“I am committed to helping preserve our way of life,” Wheeler, the father of three and grandfather of four, said. “There’s just nothing like it ... the clean air, the great beautiful outdoors, the hunting, the fishing, to be able to work and play where I live. And it’s what I want for my family ... I want them to be able to enjoy the same things I have enjoyed for more than 50 years. I love everything up here, the people, the environment ... I thought I had died and went to Heaven when my family moved up here from Fresno.”
The Coarsegold Rodeo will be held May 1-3 at the Bohna Arena. Wheeler plans on entering the arena in style.
“My dad started us off on horses when we were really young,” he said, “and I’ve been on horses most of my life ... riding in on a horse fits perfectly with the rodeo.”