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Kathryn Wheeler, 83; Eldest Grandchild of Irvine Co. Founder

October 09, 2003|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Kathryn Wheeler, the eldest grandchild of Irvine Co. founder James Irvine II and a former longtime board member of the James Irvine Foundation, has died. She was 83.

Wheeler died of pancreatic cancer Saturday at her home in Corona del Mar.

Born in the old Irvine family house on the 110,000-acre Irvine Ranch in Orange County on Feb. 27, 1920, Wheeler was the daughter of Frank Lillard and Kathryn Irvine Lillard. Her mother died three days after giving birth to her daughter.

She was raised by her grandfather, whom she called "Pop," on the Irvine Ranch and at their home in San Francisco. At 15, she met Charles Stetson Wheeler III, a UC Berkeley student. They were married six year later, in 1941.

Charles Wheeler worked for the Irvine Co. from 1953 to 1977 as head of its cattle operations in Southern California and Montana. He served as the company's corporate secretary until his death in 1993.

In 1950, Kathryn Wheeler joined the board of her grandfather's nonprofit foundation, which this year will make grants of $51 million in California for youth, the arts and statewide research and information. .

"My mom was completely dedicated to being a good director," Wheeler's daughter, Nita Connelly, said Wednesday. "I remember growing up, she'd read proposals cover to cover. She didn't take it lightly. She really loved her grandfather so much that she wanted to honor his name by doing an excellent job."

In January, construction will begin on a new branch of the Orange County Public Library system: The Katie Wheeler Branch Library in Irvine.

In recognition of her long service on its board, the James Irvine Foundation agreed to donate $1 million for the library to have it named after Wheeler.

Wheeler also was involved with the Pacific Symphony, South Coast Repertory Theater, the Orange County Center for the Performing Arts, Planned Parenthood, Human Options and the Golden Gate Kindergarten in San Francisco.

In addition to Connelly, of Corona del Mar, Wheeler is survived by another daughter, Helene Huyler, of Camden, Maine; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 12:30 p.m. Friday at Pacific View Memorial Park chapel, 3500 Pacific View Drive, Corona del Mar.

Instead of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to the American Heart Assn.

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