Finding the good in our communities

Wheelers Celebrating 40 Years of Service To Shawnee State University

The Ohio River floodwall in Portsmouth, Ohio. Dan Ramey/Litter Media

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(Portsmouth) – Dr. Wayne and Saundra Wheeler have been a part of Shawnee State University and the SSU Development Foundation for over 40 years. The Wheelers first began their involvement with SSU when the school was still Shawnee State Community College. Their young daughters participated in a summer enrichment program and the family was impressed with the opportunities that were available at that time in the area. From there, their involvement with the school grew. 

Photo courtesy of Shawnee State University

“I think the university is one of the greatest things that Vern Riffe ever did for southern Ohio,” said Wayne, talking about the impact of SSU Founder and former Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives Vern Riffe, Jr. “As an open-enrollment university, anyone who wanted to try to get a college education could. The fact that Shawnee State provided two-year degree programs was great for the area, and I think Shawnee State can continue raising the intellectual content of southern Ohio as it has since its conception, and specifically since it has become a university.”

Giving back has always been important to the Wheelers. Saundra spent several years supporting SSU faculty Stan Workman, John Huston, and Shirley Crothers-Marley as part of a performing arts board to bring Southern Ohio Light Opera to Portsmouth. She also served on the search committee to bring the first Executive Director to the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts when the facility opened. 

Wayne and Saundra have been an instrumental part of the SSU Development Foundation Board. Wayne began serving in the 1980’s, and since then, the two have each served several terms on the Board until Wayne’s retirement in May 2021. During their tenures on the board, both have been part of several campaigns, have given generously, and assisted with planning several events and President’s Galas. 

“It goes back to the basic belief that as much is given as much is expected,” said Saundra. “I think we saw a lot of people going to Shawnee State who probably would have also not been able to afford to go other places. I thought that if we could contribute to make Shawnee State a place that people would want to attend, it would make the community a better place to live and work as well as improve the quality of life for those who attended SSU.”

The Wheelers weren’t just active at SSU, but also with many groups and organizations in Portsmouth. Wayne served the Scioto County Medical Society for over 20 years. Saundra was part of the Southern Ohio Performing Arts Association Board for over 20 years, and served in various capacities on the Friends of Southern Ohio Medical Center Board, the group responsible for raising funds to build the SOMC Friends Center. Saundra is proud of the 20 years she served on Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center’s Board. Both have been supporters of the Scioto Foundation, Wayne serving on the Board and Board Chair as well as serving on the Donor Services Committee. Saundra was an organizer of Portsmouth Area Ladies, Inc. Second Presbyterian Church is very dear to both of them, having been members and served on many boards and committees since moving to Portsmouth in 1982. Wayne served as a professor in the Occupational Therapy program at SSU during the campaign to receive approval for the Master of Occupational Therapy in 2008 and acted as Medical Director of the Paramedic Program at SSU.

Wayne and Saundra also express their gratitude for SSU’s stellar education curriculum, “Our youngest daughter took advantage of the post-secondary program while a student at Portsmouth High School which was beneficial to her.”

“When our middle daughter decided to change her career path from law and apply to medical school, she didn’t have the science requirements necessary to receive acceptance, so she attended Shawnee State prior to attending medical school,” said Saundra. “Her experience at SSU served her well both academically and socially.”

“Thanks to Shawnee State and the faculty there, she was able to receive the high-quality education that was rivaled by no other,” Wayne added. “I have attended a number of well-known universities, and I can confirm that the exposure and experience she received at Shawnee State was equal to the other bigger campuses in the United States.”

Wayne and Saundra will continue to follow and support Shawnee State University and wish to express their appreciation for being asked to be a part of the Shawnee State University success story.

This feature was originally released in the Shawnee Magazine 2022 issue. To view the full magazine online, visit

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