Jeffrey Wheeler was more than a good friend of ours. Anyone who knew Jeff recognized him as a hard-working general contractor who was a perfectionist at his trade. He was a man of his word, a straight-shooter who didn’t care to B.S. around. He called it as he saw it and wasn’t afraid of doing so either. You could always count on him.
We first met Jeff about 20 years ago, not long after he moved to the Eastern Sierra to begin his contracting career. My parents had hired him early on to complete some work on their house, and it wasn’t long thereafter that he became a frequent guest at our dinner table. With my parents by now being empty-nesters, they were thrilled at the prospect of having Jeff around. His charisma and charm ultimately seduced them into considering him, as my mother described, as another son. Over time, and as he became better known in his trade and in greater demand, he got busier with work and less able to visit for dinner as much. I wonder at times if my parents dreamed up projects for him to do just to have him around the house more often.
Jeff could never sit still – he always had to be working. I cannot remember how many times I tried to get him to take some time off, to exchange the hammer for a fishing pole. But, as he always said, he just had too much to do, and not enough time to do it in. His idea of taking time off work was to change the oil in his truck, or to spray-paint his house. It was all we could do to get him to show up for dinner on time. But that was his work ethic, and one which I think we can all admire.
Every now and then, on weekends, I’d wander onto job sites where he was working just to hang out and to catch up on any gossip he might know. I tried not to get in the way or to be a distraction, but he never minded, of course. He made the time for me to shoot the breeze and have some laughs while throwing a stick for his Labrador.
I shall miss Jeff, as I know all of us who knew him will. My wife, who is fairly new to the area and only met Jeff two years ago, remarked at how he was one of the few people she has met whom she could fully trust, one with whom she felt completely at ease talking about almost anything. He had a gift to make people feel at ease, whether he knew it or not. It is tough to say goodbye, but I feel solace in the knowledge that I am a better person for having known him.
Jeff Wheeler was discovered dead at his home last week in Crowley Lake. The cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 40.
He was unmarried and leaves behind no children. He does, however, leave behind a community of friends.
Jeff Hartless was Wheeler’s longtime business partner. They worked off and on together for 16 years and held a joint contracting license for 14 of those years.
Hartless said Wheeler moved up to Mammoth from the Alhambra area to work on his cousin’s home in Hidden Valley and never left.
Hartless said of Wheeler, “He was very caring. He would help everybody, even if they couldn’t pay. He’d work 10 hour days on the job and then go help someone else after work … when it snowed, he would plow the road [in his Sierra Springs neighborhood] and then plow the driveways of his neighbors.”
Sheet: Was it frustrationg to you, as a business partner, to see him always giving stuff away?
Hartless: No. Oftentimes I’d go help him.
As Dawn Vereuck of Elegant Bath and Kitchen said this week, “I only worked with “The Jeffs” a few times, however, I have quite a few clients who have worked with them and I never heard one ill word said about either. And I routinely get an earful about many contractors in this town.”
Over the past few years, Wheeler’s health was not good (he suffered from diabetes) and friends said the side effects of the medication left him depressed.
To the end, however, he was organized and thorough. Prior to taking his own life, he made sure his bank records were all neatly laid out and that his dog would have enough to eat.
Services for Jeff Wheeler will be held Friday, Feb. 4 @ 11 a.m. at Brune Mortuary in Bishop.