Why is March 11 an important date? It’s the day in 1917 that a man by the name of A.D. Wheat was born. Wheat was a high school teacher for almost 40 years (he taught Vocational Agriculture), a practical joker, a die-hard fightin’ Texas Aggie, a faithful husband, a dedicated dad, a proud grandfather and eventually, an even prouder great-grandfather.
To say that Mr. Wheat, as he was affectionately called, was a people person is an understatement. He loved being around others and became quite well known in the small town of Cleburne, Texas. But Mr. Wheat’s popularity was not due to his social connections however. What made Mr. Wheat’s name renown in Cleburne was the way he treated those around him. It did not matter to Mr. Wheat if you were the custodian of the local school or the president of the community bank. He treated everyone as royalty. And as a result, everyone wanted to be around him.
Though Mr. Wheat eventually retired from teaching high school, he never retired from being involved in the lives of people. It was during his retirement years that he established the “good deeds” club in which he personally involved over 20,000 members. What did one have to do to join? Just perform one good deed a day. Mr. Wheat believed that if more people were to do one good deed a day, the world would be a better place.
Mr. Wheat also established a personal ministry to the elderly in Cleburne. These were individuals who were either in nursing facilities or could not leave their home. What was this ministry he developed? Well, it was fairly simple. Week in and week out he would sit and listen and talk to these aging folk who really had no one outside of a few family to be their friends.
Mr. Wheat’s mantra was, “You just gotta love people!” Nowhere was this manifested more than in his unlikely friendship with a somewhat negative elderly gentleman. Some believed, especially the nursing staff in the facility in which he lodged, that he had never smiled. When Mr. Wheat first visited this gentleman, he wondered the same. “I’ve never seen a more bitter person,” he recalled.
Week after week however, Mr. Wheat kept dropping by this man’s room just to say “Good morning!” Most times, the visits and conversations were fairly short, as most one-sided conversations are. But one day, things changed. This gentleman who never smiled or said anything positive, began to open up and talk. And one day, he began to smile. Why? Because Mr. Wheat believed that “you just gotta love people.”
There is no way of knowing how many people Mr. Wheat influenced. At his funeral on September 26, 2005, there was not an empty seat. But no one was more affected by the life of Mr. Wheat than me. He took me fishing, camping, hunting, and made sure that I went to Aggie football games at least once a year. He taught me how to shake hands firmly and look people in the eye. He paid me a dollar a day for pulling weeds in his yard and never missed a single one of my basketball games. And I guess most importantly, he modeled some great theology for me by showing me that “you just gotta love people.”
As mentioned above, all of Cleburne called A.D. Wheat Mr. Wheat. Everyone, that is, except me. I called him Grandpa! Why God graced me with the privilege of having Mr. Wheat as my grandfather I don’t know. But I am grateful and hope that I pass on to those around me what was modeled to me: “You just gotta love people.”
Happy Birthday, Grandpa!