1960’s Alumni Group dedicates new painting of Al Wheeler

1960’s Alumni Group dedicates new painting of Al Wheeler

June 15, 2017, 4:00 p.m.
Contact Ted Harshbarger, Peru State College Athletics, (402) 872-2380


Peru, Nebraska –It started nearly two years ago when Peru State alumni from the Cape Cod area started discussing what they could do for the College’s 150th birthday. Different ideas were tossed around and finally it was decided that the circa 1960s alumni group would commission a new portrait of Al Wheeler, their former coach, teacher, and friend.

The alumni group fund-raised and commissioned Heath Miller, a 1991 Peru State graduate, to do the painting which would update the older photo of Wheeler which had hung in the Al Wheeler Activity Center (AWAC) since around 1986.

On Thursday, June 15, a formal dedication of the painting took place in the lower lobby of the AWAC.

Peru State Foundation CEO Todd Simpson kicked off the event and welcomed over 20+ in attendance from the 60s group, as well as others who were there for the dedication. Simpson asked Bobcat athletic director and head football coach Steve Schneider to share some history and comments about Coach Wheeler.

Schneider read from a letter written by President Ronald Reagan for the dedication of the Al Wheeler Activity Center in 1986, “Coach Wheeler epitomizes qualities Americans value most highly in teachers and counselors of youth. Al Wheeler’s outstanding legacy of responsibility and achievements inspires future generations.”

Following Schneider’s comments, the Foundation’s National Alumni Co-Chair Paul Fell, a native of Massachusetts, told the story of the how the portrait came to be commissioned.

Fell said, “About a year and a half ago, when we had our reunion on Cape Cod, our leader, Andy Anderson, suggested that our group give a gift to Peru State for the 150th birthday.

“We decided we would commission a painting of Coach Wheeler.”

Simpson, Schneider, Fell, and the painting’s artist, Heath Miller, unveiled the painting which brought about a big round of applause and probably one of the most profound statements made during the event from one of the alumni. A former player stated, “Those are his eyes.”

Simpson then welcomed Miller to the podium where he discussed his vision and how the portrait transpired. The Beatrice High School graduate noted he worked from just a black-and-white photo and had decided that a blue monotone portrait would be what he would produce. Miller is currently the art director at KOLN/KGIN Channel 10/11 in Lincoln.

Miller said, “I had a black and white picture – and that was about the best thing I could fine. So, I was thinking: blue. Peru is blue. That’s their color. So that is the reason why I chose the blue-monotone sort of colors.”

Simpson closed the event by noting that a plaque would be placed with the painting and would be inscribed with “Presented by the 1960s alumni group to honor the memory of Al Wheeler, coach, teacher, and friend, and to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Peru State College as an educational and cultural force in Nebraska. June 15, 2017. Portrait created by Heath Miller, class of 1991.”

Following the dedication, the alumni group and Foundation staff enjoyed a box lunch in the hospitality suite in the recently renovated Oak Bowl. For many in the group, this was their first time actually seeing the “new” Oak Bowl.


The Peru State 1960's alumni group with the new Al Wheeler Portrait.

The Peru State 1960’s alumni group with the new Al Wheeler Portrait.


Steve Schneider, Paul Fell, Heath Miller and Todd Simpson with the new Al Wheeler Portrait

Steve Schneider, Paul Fell, Heath Miller and Todd Simpson with the new Al Wheeler Portrait


Health Miller describing the artistic process behind his work on the All Wheeler portrait.

Heath Miller describing the artistic process behind his work on the All Wheeler portrait.


Todd Simpson speaks to the 1960's alumni group after the unveiling.

Peru State Foundation CEO, Todd Simpson, speaks to the 1960’s alumni group after the unveiling.

Peru State College’s Sesquicentennial

On June 20, 1867, the fledgling state government of Nebraska named Peru, Nebraska, as the home of the state’s first college. The college was founded as a normal school dedicated to training teachers.  June 20, 2017 will be the 150th anniversary of Peru State Colleges’s charter.

Peru State College’s Sesquicentennial All-College Reunion is June 16-18, 2017. All Peru State alumni are invited to attend this weekend before Charter Day. Activities include an All-College Dinner and Alumni Awards; the launch of the Peru State College anniversary book by the Omaha World-Herald; workshops with faculty and staff; and many other activities and meals to let you catch-up with old friends and new!

This Sesquicentennial Charter Event Celebration will mark the charter date of June 20, 1867, of Nebraska’s first institution of higher education by the Nebraska Legislature. The historic event will include daytime activities for children ages 5 years to eighth grade, Nebraska artists program and historical presentations for all ages. The evening reception and banquet will kick off with musical entertainment and an introduction of Nebraska City’s Chautauqua WWI re-enactors.

Homecoming in 2017 is a special celebration of the 150th anniversary of Peru State College’s founding. The Homecoming dates are scheduled the week of the first day of classes (October 24, 1867) and events include: football; volleyball; an All-Alumni Dinner featuring milestone graduation anniversaries; pep rally and bonfire; special reunion celebrations for alumni who participated in Student Senate, Board of Trustees, Pep Band, Homecoming Kings and Queens, and Cheerleading; the Toughest Mile (race); and a parade like no other!

Visit www.peru.edu/150 to learn more about these events and the many other anniversary events planned at Peru State College!

Jason Hogue and Quentin Victor contributed to this release.

File Downloads:

VIDEO: Schneider reads from President Reagan’s letter about Al Wheeler.
VIDEO: Miller explains color choices.
VIDEO: Fell describes how and why the painting was commissioned.
VIDEO: The portrait is unveiled.