targeting the notables and quotables of kansas city

Dr. Charles B. Wheeler Jr.

When asked what he does for a living—despite the many roles he has played in his lifetime—Dr. Charles B. Wheeler Jr. answers, "I practice medicine." With a father and grandfather who were physicians in Kansas City before him, a medical career would seem to have been predestined. Yet from his earliest childhood years during the Depression, he developed an interest in politics.

Wheeler’s father guided him firmly toward the medical career. After med school during WWII, a tour as a flight surgeon during the Korean War, and residency at Saint Luke’s Hospital, he took his education in another direction. In 1953, at the age of 27, he started attending night law school at Kansas City University so he could specialize in scientific crime detection. "The prosecutor said law enforcement needed a person with my training," Wheeler says, "and I was prone to agree with him."

Wheeler won the 1964 election for Jackson County coroner. He parlayed that into a four-year tour as Western Judge of Jackson County, and then, beginning in 1971, eight years as Kansas City’s mayor. Many regard this as the last golden age of Kansas City with the construction of KCI, Worlds of Fun, Crown Center, and the Truman Sports Complex. Many of these projects Wheeler advocated as judge and saw them come to completion as mayor. In particular he calls Bartle Hall and Kemper Arena "Wheeler projects."

The doctor naturally went back to medicine after his term as mayor, and he is now director of laboratories at Samuel Rogers Health Clinic. He indulged his passion for politics again, though, with his run for Harry Wiggins’ 10th District Missouri Senate seat.

The city has plans to cement Wheeler’s place in its history by celebrating on Aug. 16 the rededication of the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport. Only one year old when the airport was first dedicated in 1927, Wheeler can’t claim this project as one of his own. Nonetheless, he says, "I’m thrilled."