Family and friends remember Pastor Ed Wheatley
Timothy Wheatley said his father, Ed, knew he was going to become a pastor after a trip to the Boundary Waters when he was 13 years old.
“He was out under the stars, and he said, ‘You know, Lord, I think you’re calling me for this,’ and he just clearly got this sense of call that he’d be a pastor,” Timothy said.
Timothy continued that when his father returned home from the trip, he excitedly told his mother about the path he now wanted to take in his life.
“He said to her, ‘I’m going to be a pastor,’ and his mother said, ‘Last week you were going to be a rock star, this week you’re going to be a pastor? I can’t wait to see what it is next week.’”
The truth is Pastor Ed, as he was known to just about everyone in the area, ended up somewhere between a rock star, pastor and comedian.
He faithfully led the congregation of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Stacy for 20-plus years and was senior pastor at the time of his death May 6. Before his time in Stacy, he served at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wyoming, and he started his career at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Oakdale. He was also the executive director of Vermilion River Camp, which has run a transitional home in Forest Lake for about the last decade, and he was a three-decade member of the Wyoming Lions Club.
He died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 64, and the loss of Pastor Ed leaves a gaping hole in the community that will never be filled, members of St. John’s said last week during a meeting at the church.
Time for everyone
Being the wife and children of a pastor is never easy, due to the hectic schedule they keep, and those who knew Pastor Ed were aware he had as busy of a schedule as anyone they could ever meet. Through the course of a 10-minute conversation with Pastor Ed, his phone might ring five times. At the other end of the line would be people asking for counseling, help with various projects, or they’d simply be calling to talk to a pastor who was always willing to listen.
Pastor Ed’s wife, Joanne “Fritz” Wheatley, started dating him when they were both in high school at Concordia Academy-St. Paul Lutheran.
“He was just this gregarious guy, opposite of me, and I just loved his bubbly personality,” Fritz said. “He was just so fun. So we dated ever since that time and got married after I graduated from college. I just want to say that I willingly let him give to everyone because it was for the glory of God. He also gave to me, just as much, maybe more. I always knew he loved me. He spent time with me. If I ever said, ‘I really, really need you,’ he would drop the other things and come to me. He was just a fantastic husband.”
Pastor Ed and Fritz had four children together: Timothy, a pastor; Christopher, a chaplain for hospice; Jenny, a gallery coordinator; and Elizabeth, a doctor.
“I guess, growing up, I very clearly remember that God was my dad’s No. 1 priority, but because of that love of God, the love of us, love of everyone and the love of the whole world were a close second,” Elizabeth said. “He would meet someone 20 years after he met them once, and he would say, ‘I know your face. You’re the ‘orange guy.’ I met you 20 years ago. You were buying oranges at the grocery store.’”
Elizabeth said her father had an electric personality that resonated with everyone.
“He just had this ability to draw people out and make them feel special and amazing and memorable, and that was his gift, and he did it through the love of God. If he could make someone feel better and make someone feel special, and make someone feel loved, then he had done his job, and he did it very well,” she said. “He still managed to be a really great dad and be there through all the important stuff and make us know that we are loved.”
Timothy said, for him, one memory really encompasses just how giving his father was.
“I just remember when I was a senior, I was studying for finals, and I was studying really late because debate took up so much of my time,” he said. “At 4 a.m., he comes in the door and says, ‘Oh, good, you’re still up.’ I was thinking I should really be in bed because I had to complete this paper and take a final the next day, and he said, ‘We’ve got to move a washer.’ Oh, I didn’t even know what to say at that point, so I helped him move a new washer for mom at 4 a.m. so when she got up she would be surprised by a new washer. We did it without much noise, so she was surprised.”
More than a pastor
Many St. John’s members and even those who didn’t regularly attend the church who had a bond with Pastor Ed looked at him as more than their spiritual leader — he was a member of their families.
“He was more than my pastor; he was like my parent,” Nicole Anderson said. “When I was doing my marriage counseling with him, I told my husband — I warned him, before we showed up the first session — I said, ‘You know, I just want to tell you, he’s not just my pastor. He treats me like his own kid, so watch what you say to him.’ After the very first session, my husband said to me on the way home, ‘Thanks for the warning.’ He’s just been my home, because through all of my hard times and my rough childhood, he was always there. He was always never-changing, along with the church. It was my home.’”
Natasha Bourgoin remembered that Pastor Ed shared some of his trademark humor when she called to tell him that her now husband, Bear, had proposed.
“When I called him, I said, ‘Pastor Ed, this is Natasha; I’m calling to tell you that Bear asked me to marry him.’ He was like, ‘He finally found someone!’ Pastor Ed tried to auction him off at his brother’s wedding. I always loved that story.”
Bourgoin, fighting back tears, remembered some of the aspects of what made Pastor Ed so special to her and everyone whose lives he touched.
“I’m really going to miss that man’s voice,” she said. “I won’t forget his warm hugs. His last words to me were, ‘God loves you, and I love you, too.”
On his way to heaven
Patha Vue called Pastor Ed her “spiritual father.”
“He was my mentor, one who edified me, built me up and encouraged me,” she said. “I left him a couple of times, and he always treated me the same when I came back. He made sure I knew I was loved.”
Linda Welch said she and Vue were on their way to the hospital to see Pastor Ed after his heart attack, and Fritz called and told them not to come because he had died.
“We turned around, and we came up to the church,” Welch said. “Patha laid herself on the altar, and she saw — she’s very spiritual — and she saw Pastor Ed in a white robe, walking up a white stairway, waving and smiling. That impacted Fritz so much because she now knew he was smiling and on his way to heaven.”
More memories of Pastor Ed
“Pastor Ed has been the most unique person I have ever met in my life. He was interesting to work with. I never knew what was going to happen when I walked in the church. I didn’t know if I was going to be in charge or if I wasn’t. He gave me a chance as their first female pastor in 110 years. He was always a faithful friend and mentor, and he made me laugh a lot. And I learned how to relate to people better with love and care and understanding.”
– Pastor Mary Ellen Steinkraus
“Everything he did, he did it with the strength of God. I saw it. He would lay down his life for others. He was an amazing instrument of God’s grace in everyone’s life.” – Evelyn Dockham
“Pastor Ed would always make sure I knew I was loved, always. And his hugs were so warm. I just don’t know who I would be if I didn’t have Pastor Ed in my life, growing up. Definitely, I don’t know where I would have ended up, as a teenager.” – Betty Dockham
“Pastor Ed had a way of making everybody feel like they were special. The reality is that we all had that common thread. He was at every crisis in our life, without being asked.” – Dayna Born
“I live in town, and if he knew I’d be home and something would come up, there’d be a knock on my door and I’d hear ‘Anybody home?’ My daughter would go, ‘It’s Pastor Ed!’ I knew there’d be an ‘Ed-venture’ on the other side of the door.” – Barbara Grams
“He was always there. He was always there for my kids. When we lost my nephew, who was 10 at the time … we contacted him, because we didn’t know how to explain to the kids that their cousin had died, and he did it with such elegance. Us parents, we always want to cover our children and make the best for them. He spent the time with them, each of them, and explained the situation and what had happened.” – Linda Miller
“Pastor Ed baptized four of my grandchildren, and six of them have been confirmed by him. All these kids have made posts (online) about these trips and their memories of Pastor Ed. I’ve been teaching a confirmation the last three years, with him guiding that. These children are broken up because they won’t get to have their picture taken with Pastor Ed in the fall when they are confirmed. – Cheryl Shanahan
“Pastor Ed definitely made an impression on me. ‘Dynamic’ is probably an understatement. You could tell his love for Jesus. He just exuded that, not only in the sermon, but when we’d be talking afterward. I think he had a second calling, and that was to be a comedian. It’s occurred to me a couple of times in the last couple of days, what is Pastor Ed doing in heaven? Is he making jokes and entertaining people with his humor? Or is he just singing? He loved to sing, and he was a very good singer.” – DeeDee Bruyere
“Pastor Ed was a pastor of the world. He was not only a pastor in this church; he pastored wherever he went. He was just a man of God. We can be so thankful and learn from what he has given us. Let’s love one another, let’s care about one another, and let’s not gossip about anybody, because that is God’s plan.
“He was a blessing from God to every life he touched. He was my pastor, my friend and truly the most amazing man I ever met.” – David Dockham
“He is truly a man of God. I don’t know when he slept. I really don’t. He seemed to be everywhere, all the time. He was a fixture of the county, for crying out loud. I don’t think there was anybody who didn’t know him. He was something else. I feel blessed to have known him.” – Leo Byrne
“Some days I’d call Pastor Ed up and say, ‘You mind if I ride around with you today?’ I used to go with him on his daily chores. He was just such a treat to be around.” – Dale Negen
“It was about eight years ago when I was told by Precision Tune that my head gaskets on my 11-year-old Saturn were completely damaged, and they were charging me $2,200 to fix it so my car would start again. So I called Pastor Ed and asked him what I should do. He asked me where I was, so I told him. He drove down to Brooklyn Center with a flat trailer, loaded and hooked my car up like a professional and drove it up to a friend’s garage. Later that night he calls me and tells me that he drove my car. Well, of course I got all excited, because I thought my car was dead, and he resurrected it. I asked him how he did it. And he told me that his friend cleaned up the spark plugs, started it up and now ‘it purrs like a kitten.’” – Kathy Spiczka
“I just can’t put into words how much he’s helped people and how much he was loved. He was an amazing man. I don’t know where he ever got the energy he had. He’s going to be missed so much. I’ve never met a man like him, and I don’t think I ever will again.” – Theresa Negen
“I have a Last Supper picture, and it has been on my dining room wall for years, and I mean years. Friday (May 6), that’s when he died. It had to be around 3 p.m. — it was around that time. The picture fell off the wall. It fell right off the wall.” – Jeanne Aslakson
Anyone who would like to read or share more memories of Pastor Ed
can log onto Facebook and search “Praying for Pastor Ed.”