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By Melody Jameson
SUN CITY CENTER – This community’s leading logistician is stepping down. Or, perhaps stepping on says it better. Either way, the action certainly is not to be confused with stepping out.
|When Paul Whea, retiring SCC Community Association president, vacates his office in the CA suite on the north campus, he will leave behind an unusual legacy of 11 consecutive years in volunteer service and an unprecedented archive of information to help his successor. Wheat, an expert in logistics related to U.S. and foreign military weapons systems, retired from NATO in 1994 and leaves the CA leadership in January.
When Paul Whea, retiring SCC Community Association president, vacates his office in the CA suite on the north campus, he will leave behind an unusual legacy of 11 consecutive years in volunteer service and an unprecedented archive of information to help his successor. Wheat, an expert in logistics related to U.S. and foreign military weapons systems, retired from NATO in 1994 and leaves the CA leadership in January.|
Come January, Paul A. Wheat, for 11 years a SCC Community Association director, six years its corporate secretary, the last two years its president, retires. It’s one of the longest and most actively involved runs in the history of the organization.
But the former career U.S. Army officer and senior manager in a sensitive area of the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) is not about to fade from the scene. There’s just too much to be dealt with: maintaining the community’s appeal through beautification as its last developer withdraws, for instance, or finding the narrow line of harmonious acceptance regarding sometimes hotly contested architectural standards overseen by homeowner associations. He sees them as front burner issues in 2009. They’re not likely to be the only ones, but they must be understood, managed, resolved. And that, after all, is what logisticians do; they try to think of everything.
Wheat is no stranger to hot issues. In the decade, plus, that he’s been consistently on the front line of what comes closest to a governing group in the community, the 70-year-old has waded into multiple controversies. Potential golf course control, informative newsletter versus investigative newspaper, a new and expensive but leaking fitness center roof, miss-channeled community planning, to mention just a few from the recent past. In a community as diverse, as opinionated, as tuned in as this one sometimes can be, he acknowledges, it goes with the territory.
Unlike many individuals who attain considerable success in life, Wheat says he did not plan for it. Born into a blue collar family, during the waning depression years, the eldest of five, he came to young manhood in small town New York with no particularly consuming life goal, he recalls. Upon graduation from the local high school, “my Dad made it clear I should go to work. College was not an option.” So, he followed his father’s direction, picked up two part-time jobs and soon concluded “two part-times do not make one good job.”
Within a matter of months, youthful Wheat was in the U.S. Army. It was, he says today, looking back, “the best thing that ever happened to me.” Interested in the growing field of electronics and perceiving a chance to “pick and choose,” Wheat the recruit opted for the Signal Corps. He was on the lower rungs of a long ladder, but there were opportunities for more education; a course here, a seminar there, they began to pile up and Wheat began to climb – with a growing foundation in missiles, their maintenance and management.
One year gave way to another, Wheat made second lieutenant, was assigned to the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama, began assuming command responsibilities, was sent to Korea in ‘66, found himself in ordinance at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds - and continued on a educational track. By 1972, he had a bachelor’s degree in business obtained from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Along the way, he found a wife and in time there would be five children, three sons, two daughters. The career he never envisioned continued to flourish and the honing of the logistician began in earnest. By the mid-1970s, he was Depot Adjutant at the Seneca Army Depot, Romulus, N.Y., responsible for administration of its maintenance and supply mission, then chief of maintenance in the Directorate for Special Weapons at the depot, then Chief of the Logistics Division at Fort Hood, Texas. All of it accompanied, of course, by increases in rank to Lt. Colonel, plus an MBA from Syracuse University.
Before that first unplanned but nonetheless exemplary career was concluded, Wheat would resettle in Europe – Luxembourg to be exact - as the senior logistics officer performing support functions for five major weapon systems fielded by NATO nations. And when he left that world in 1994, he was responsible for the logistics support of six major weapons systems, had operational oversight of 11 program managers, represented superiors at NATO meetings and at times managed some 600 employees of 15 nationalities.
It was not, however, an unremitting bed of roses; he has been stung, too, by the thorns of life. With quiet reflection, he speaks of the deaths of a long-term marriage and of a son, his life snuffed out in his prime. The latter life-altering event, he allows, was his lowest point, the one occurrence a caring parent wants only to escape; should never have to face.
Yet, in such circumstances there is little choice but to soldier on. He did, eventually meeting and marrying Jean and, along with her two daughters, building the extended, blended family of six children and six grandchildren he enjoys today. Their children all are well launched; “they haven’t asked for money for a long time now,” he notes with a grin, adding that “the relationship between a grandparent and grandchildren is a very special one.” The entire clan gathers with fair regularity at the Wheat lakeside summer home in a quiet corner of New York.
It was another unplanned turn in the road that brought the Wheats to their retirement destination. They stumbled onto SCC quite by accident during a brief stopover at the former Bahia Beach in 1994. But, it led, subsequently, to purchasing their home on Westminster Manor Lane and in 1998 Wheat was elected a CA director the first time.
To this volunteer work, he says he has tried to apply his experience in researching reliable information, listening to and evaluating other views, looking for common ground, identifying and implementing solutions, while also delegating and counseling. At times, the approach has produced spectacular success.
After several false starts, a Sun City Center Community Plan now is well on its way to official approvals. It happened after Wheat stepped in to stop a couple of misdirected attempts at planning and encouraged activist Anne Cross to lead the effort even though they had sharply disagreed on other subjects.
They’re both pleased with the end result. Cross compliments him on his willingness to listen, noting how some of her ideas have been so readily incorporated.
On the other hand, sometimes a controversy is not so easily resolved. Witness the new fitness center’s leaking roof which has been a source of strenuous objection for months and now is a matter of litigation. Wheat admits it’s a lingering, frustrating problem that has prompted some to question board oversight, but insists when it is settled the community will have the building for which it contracted.
Bob Deutel, who has worked with Wheat on various projects and also has been a board director, describes him as a “very upfront person. He’s not sneaky,” Deutel asserts, and he tries to keep everyone informed. So much so, Deutel adds with a laugh, “that you can’t get just a yes or no answer out of him.”
When questions arose recently about the possible fate of developer-owned community golf courses in a very sluggish housing market complicated by the developer’s ongoing bankruptcy, Wheat moved decisively to begin gathering factual information on which to base decisions. He suggested a dedicated task force and delegated its leadership to director Ed Barnes.
The approach could be expected. “I think his management style is influenced by his military experience and the chain of command” familiarity, notes Bruce Arnold, a former board president. Arnold, who worked most closely with Wheat when he was the corporate secretary, calls him “knowledgeable, helpful and good with detail.”
Yet another hot topic, once thought to be put to bed, involves the revamped CA newsletter now under assault for declining to publish letters to the editor. But Wheat, whose position in opposition to the former larger community news product led to its staff resigning en masse, says he’s not going there again. He points instead to early 2009 plans for the publication which call for it to add pages and features, along with color and photography, on newsprint paper.
Through it all, Wheat observes he has maintained his values. “Integrity,” he says firmly, “is like virginity. Once it’s lost, it’s darned difficult to recover.”
The retiring president also will be leaving plenty for his successor to chew over. An inveterate documenter of facts, events, transactions, he has carefully compiled several volumes of records and history related to various community issues. It’s an archive, the logistician expects, that will give the next president a leg up before he has to hit the ground running in a full time job with on-call duty and no salary. It’s also “the mark of a good leader,” he says, “to train your replacement.”
©2008 Melody Jameson
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