Three Siblings Follow in Their Grandparents’ Charitable Footsteps

By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer

Each Christmas, R.B. Wheeler and his wife Fran gave their grandchildren packets of information about a donation they had made in their family’s name to touch the lives of children through a ChildFund project.

75th ChildFund logoFor more than a dozen years, the Wheeler family gathered to consider existing project needs in various countries where ChildFund works. Then R.B., Fran and the family would pick a few projects (often involving water and education) to fund in the names of all their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Jacey Messer, one of those grandchildren, says she didn’t always take the gifts seriously when she was young, but the message her grandfather sent each holiday season eventually sank in. Her brother, Jeff Wheeler, suggested to Jacey and their sister Julie that they make a collective donation to a project this past Christmas through ChildFund. After losing both of their grandparents in the past year, the decision was very meaningful, Jeff says. Their gift will expand and equip a school in rural Ecuador where educational opportunities are very limited.

“I felt it was kind of our responsibility,” Jeff says, adding that his grandfather “knew at some point that this kind of gift would be more rewarding” than a toy or another present under the tree.

Wheeler family

The Wheelers, with original ChildFund supporters R.B. and Fran seated at center.

The three siblings, who are now in their 20s and 30s, live in different states and have many responsibilities. Jeff is an engineer in Seattle, and Julie is a nurse in Minnesota. Jacey, a lawyer, works for the family’s business in South Dakota and is expecting her third child. Deciding to make a contribution to a ChildFund project as a family was an effective way of making a difference, as well as honoring their grandparents, Jeff says. 

Over the years, R.B. and Fran Wheeler, who lived in Lemmon, S.D., sponsored children through ChildFund. They also donated funds for schools in Uganda, Bolivia and Brazil, as well as other projects focusing on health and water needs in Kenya, Ethiopia and Zambia.

Jacey says that her grandfather was “very meticulous about studying up about where his money was going” and that he placed trust in ChildFund’s stewardship. He was very interested in providing clean water and education, ideals that he shared with his family, even when they were young. Today, Jacey says she is continuing the humanitarian tradition with her children. Her eldest child, who is 5, is “starting to get it,” she says, and Jacey, Jeff and Julie hope to continue the Christmas tradition of funding a ChildFund project.

“What made R.B. and Fran Wheeler even more exceptional is that they wanted their love for children around the world to live on not only through their own children and grandchildren, but also through their estate,” explains David Jokinen, ChildFund’s bequest administrator. “They realized that they could help the children in ChildFund’s programs and still benefit their own family after they were gone — a true win-win arrangement.”

When R.B. and Fran passed away last year, the gifts they’d planned for years ago, through their will and via a charitable trust, passed to ChildFund. Today, their generosity and faithful partnership lives on, transforming the lives of children.

“It’ll be something we’ll have to keep going for them,” Jacey says of future Wheeler generations.

You can make a gift to help children that costs you nothing now, by including ChildFund International in your estate plans.

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