Dr. Ruede Wheeler was wrapping up nine years on the La Porte ISD Board of Trustees when several San Jacinto College trustees approached him. Would he consider serving on the College’s Board next?
With trustee positions still appointed then, Wheeler considered, then replied, “Yes, I would.”
In 1986, he couldn’t have imagined San Jac’s coming exponential growth. The newest location, South Campus, had opened its doors just seven years earlier. In June 2023 — 37 years and two campuses later — Wheeler finally hung up his hat as one of the College’s longest-serving trustees. In that time, he maintained a single-minded focus on students.
“He really does care what’s happening for students,” Board Chair Marie Flickinger said. “He has no agenda for himself, just what’s best for students and the College.”
In the early 2000s, Wheeler and Flickinger attended the Achieving the Dream Board of Trustees Institute. At this conference, they learned San Jacinto College needed to make big changes. Despite growing enrollment, the College was losing students who hadn’t finished their credentials and replacing them with new students who wouldn’t finish either.
While they were a board without a personal agenda, they were also a board willing to do the tough work. Trustees began working with College administrators to analyze the numbers and make changes that would lead to more students earning degrees and certificates.
“Ruede easily made that transition from a board that went along to a board that said, ‘Hey, we can do better.’ That’s not easy to do,” Flickinger said.
Since 2011, the College has increased the number of certificates and degrees awarded by nearly 72%. Students have also saved millions with free and low-cost textbooks through the Open Books initiative.
Trustee Larry Wilson, whom Wheeler encouraged to run for the Board, credits him with keeping everyone focused on the most important thing: students.
“Our decisions went along with his thoughts,” Wilson said. “He would hammer that home: ‘How does this improve or fit into the education of students?’”
When Wheeler retired from his seat June 5, 2023, fellow trustees gave him the honorary title “trustee emeritus.” Despite his contributions, Wheeler refuses to focus on himself.
“We did everything as a board, not as individuals,” he said.
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Has a building named after him — the North Campus’ Dr. Ruede M. Wheeler Building (opened as Dr. Ruede M. Wheeler Occupational/Technical Building in 1989)
Served as Board chair, chaired finance and building committees, and participated in several chancellor search committees
Helped plan three bond referendums, which passed by wide margins and added academic, workforce training, and student support facilities and two more campuses
Championed affordable textbooks, including supporting the College’s Open Books initiative, which provides free and low-cost materials to students