This article was written by Norman Oberto, on why he and his family wanted to redevelop Wheeler Park.
I have been asked to write an article explaining my interest in creating a park in honor of Henry Wheeler – and thus underwriting the cost to landscape the 2.7 acres designated by the city as Wheeler Park.
I had not paid much attention to Henry Wheeler’s role in Northfield’s history until Hayes Scriven, Northfield Historical Society Executive Director, asked for my assistance in purchasing a set of historical artifacts that had been in a private collection for over thirty years. These items have become known as, “The Wheeler Collection,” including Mr. Wheeler’s rifle, pistol, gold watch, and numerous family pictures in a decorative trunk.
After learning the story of Henry Wheeler, the young college student, and his heroic role in disrupting the James-Younger Gang raid on September 7, 1876, I decided to assist the Northfield Historical Society by acquiring the collection and putting it on loan to the Historical Society.
The reason for my involvement is very simple. I liked the fact that this college student acted with incredible bravery to disrupt the bank robbery, thus preventing what would have been a catastrophic event for the young town of Northfield.
The James-Younger Gang attempted bank raid story has been told over and over, along with the heroism of Mr. Joseph Lee Heywood, who gave his life in foiling the infamous bank robbery. Other townspeople also acted with bravery. One of these individuals was Henry Wheeler, who picked up a rifle from the mantel of the Dampier Hotel, ran upstairs to a location across the street from the bank, shot Clell Miller, and wounded Bob Younger. His quick response to, “Get your guns boys, they’re robbing the bank” was crucial in preventing the gang from robbing the First National Bank of Northfield.
When I heard the story for the first time, I wondered how I would have reacted to such an event in the face of life-threatening danger. I would like to think I would have acted like Henry Wheeler, but one never knows until unexpectedly faced with the decision.
In today’s world, I, along with many of us, probably will not be faced with trying to foil a bank robbery. However, I do believe we all have the opportunity to conduct ourselves like Henry Wheeler each and every day. We can be heroes to the people we meet and interact with by acting in a caring, kind, and honorable way. Most likely our actions would not be considered heroic, but certainly we could try to model them after Henry Wheeler.
In short, just being a good neighbor and friend, helping those in need, and trying to make our community a better place to live exemplify the character demonstrated by Henry Wheeler.
By establishing Wheeler Park, it is my hope that everyone will be able to take a moment to reflect on the example set by Henry Wheeler. Between the wild grasses, flowers, and rows of oak trees, there is plenty to admire whether driving by, taking an evening walk, or sitting on one of the four stone benches.
I also hope that Wheeler Park will remind people of the strong community we have built since that fateful day in 1876. As the years go by, and the trees and grasses become more established, may all of us remember that our community has been, and will continue to be, built on people caring about people. My desire is that Wheeler Park reminds us to be good stewards of our community, based on the legacy of Henry Wheeler and others before us.