Donald Wheat, 89, Was Businessman and Mentor

Donald L. Wheat, an active citizen of Oak Bluffs and St. Petersburg, Fla., died peacefully on Jan. 13 at his daughter's home in Washington D.C., seven days before his 90th birthday.

Mr. Wheat, son of the late Clarence and Leila Wheat, spent his early years in Corona, Long Island, New York. He attended the public schools of New York city and was graduated from Stuyvesant High School, the elite, honors high school in Manhattan. Mr. Wheat became one of the earliest African-American firemen for the city of New York and was instrumental in founding the Vulcan Society, which was composed of the African-American firemen and was designed to promote equal opportunities for all New York city firemen. In addition, Mr. Wheat was a businessman who, along with his wife, owned and operated a successful luncheonette and stationery store in Corona. Mr. Wheat promoted and sponsored many social events for the community and was instrumental in bringing many well-known entertainers and artists to the Long Island community. As a business owner, he was a mentor to many young men while employing some of them and served as discussion leader for local youths interested in business and politics. Mr. Wheat served as a committee chairman for the Democratic Club and as president of the Corona chapter of the National Association of Colored People.

Mr. Wheat retired from the New York city fire department and he and Mrs. Wheat moved to Roxbury, N.Y. Roxbury at that time was a farming village where Mr. and Mrs. Wheat purchased a 150-acre dairy farm. It was in Roxbury that Mr. Wheat, along with his wife, started and developed a major wholesale butter and egg bonded trucking business. Wheat's Eggs Inc. purchased eggs from chicken farmers throughout the city. During these years (1950s and early 1960s) there were no other African-American egg dealers bonded in the state of New York.

In 1962, the Wheats lost their only son, Donald Jr., seven years of age, in a tragic auto accident. Mr. Wheat took his wife to Europe for a few weeks to gather strength and to regroup. This trip grew into two years of extensive travel around Europe and Africa. When the Wheats returned to the United States, Mr. Wheat accepted a position as supervisor for a fire insurance underwriting agency. In this position, once again, Mr. Wheat mentored many young African-American males who had been recently hired by the company. This supervisor/mentor position became a 24-hour responsibility for Mr. Wheat.

Ultimately, in response to friends from Europe and at the urging of his wife, the Wheats returned to Europe, purchased a villa in Spain and remained there for seven years. Each year the Wheats returned to the United States to celebrate the Christmas and New Year holidays with their family, and their family sojourned each summer to Spain. These were exciting years for the family.

During the last 25 years of his life, Mr. Wheat lived in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Oak Bluffs. In both places, his services as an active and responsible citizen were exemplary. He served several terms on the St. Petersburg police review board and as an elder of the Lakeview Presbyterian Church. Mr. and Mrs. Wheat represented St. Petersburg as delegates to the National Democratic Convention in Chicago when former President William Clinton was nominated. Mr. Wheat served as a campaign manager for several candidates seeking political office in Florida. He was an active member of the St. Petersburg chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity; in that capacity, he was particularly interested in assisting young men prepare for college. In addition, he was active with the local St. Petersburg Democrat organization and served on various committees. Also while in Florida, Mr. Wheat volunteered as a guardian for several Boley residents and monitored the phones for the council on aging. The Wheats were members of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. Mr. Wheat also found time to complete his bachelor's degree at Eckerd College.

While in Oak Bluffs, Mr. Wheat was an avid fisherman and bridge player. As a fisherman, he supplied his family with fish for the winter. As a bridge player, he was a charter member of the Martha's Vineyard chapter of the National Bridge Association. He belonged to the "Polar Bears" and participated in many programs sponsored by the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging. He was also a member of the Mink Meadows Golf Club.

Donald Wheat is survived by Irma, his wife of 72 years; his daughter, Dr. Constance J. Batty of St. Petersburg; two grandchildren, Judith Batty Esq. and Alicia Batty Esq. of Washington, D.C.; a sister, Mrs. Ruth W. Miles of New York city, and a host of nieces, nephews and friends. Two children, Judith and Donald, predeceased Mr. Wheat.

The family suggests contributions in memory of Donald L. Wheat may be sent to Pinellas County Urban League Inc., 333 31st street North, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33713, and to Hospice of Washington, D.C., 4200 Wisconsin avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20016.