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Longtime journalist Dick Wheeler dies at age 67

By Scott Bauer

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 11 2011 10:35 a.m. MST

MADISON, Wis. — Dick Wheeler, a longtime journalist who covered Wisconsin politics and founded a popular website that bore his name, died Friday. He was 67.

His daughter, Gwyn Guenther, said that Wheeler died at his Madison apartment as he was getting ready to come into the Capitol for work. The cause of death was unknown, but he suffered from congenital heart failure and had suffered a heart attack 24 years ago, Guenther said.

"My dad always said two things about his job," Guenther said. "He loved what he was doing so he never worked a day in his life and the day he stopped enjoying it he would stop showing up."

Wheeler came to Madison in 1972 to work for the Gongwer News Service, Guenther said. That same year he started The Wheeler Report, which began as a newsletter detailing activities of the state government and Legislature that he mailed to subscribers daily, she said.

The report was later faxed to subscribers before a website was started in 1998, Guenther said. The site included original reporting by Wheeler, links to news stories written by others, and details of legislative action that Wheeler and his staff compiled. Subscribers had access to even more information, including every vote taken by the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee, which crafts the state budget.

His website was a family business, with Guenther and his son-in-law working by his side, as well as Wheeler's longtime companion Diane Harmelink.

Wheeler previously worked for United Press International and Scripps Howard in Michigan and Ohio, where he covered the Kent State shootings in 1970, Guenther said. Wheeler was born outside of Pittsburgh.

He was well known in the Capitol for his encyclopedic knowledge of state government and the inner workings of the Legislature.

"Dick was an entrepreneur and reporter who turned the news service he founded into what was for decades the primary source information for those interested in the Wisconsin legislative process," said Rob Marchant, chief clerk of the state Senate. "Dick took the time to understand and communicate not only the politics but also the procedures critical to lawmaking."

Marchant said Wheeler will be dearly missed.

"Dick made his mark in Wisconsin news and politics but remained largely unknown to the state who he served so well," he said. "The entire legislative community in Wisconsin owes him a debt of gratitude."

Wheeler worked a full day on Thursday, his last in the Capitol, reporting on actions of the Joint Finance Committee. He always was the first person in the press room, frequently arriving at 5:30 a.m.

Including being an expert on legislative process, Wheeler was generous to his colleagues in the press, frequently buying coffee or food for those covering the Legislature deep into the night. One of his favorite expressions, as he would reach for his wallet, was "You fly, I buy."

Arrangements were pending.

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