By Ralphine Major

She left suddenly one Monday morning over two years ago when she was way too young.  An ambulance was summoned, but doctors’ best efforts could not save her.  Tamela Marie Wheeler passed away at age 48, but she lived life to the fullest during those years.

When she moved into the Gibbs Community, Tamela became our neighbor.  When our father passed away, her kind words and conversation went a long way.  Several years ago, when helicopters were flying all around the area, Tamela and I talked several times over the phone.  She vowed to find out the reason for the helicopters—and she did!

Tamela accomplished much in her short life.  She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from The University of Tennessee and was a Teacher of Adult Education and English as a Second Language at the Pellissippi State Magnolia Campus.  She was the past chair of Tribute to Women 25th Anniversary for the YWCA and past nominee for Woman of the Year for Education for the YWCA.  Her talents did not stop at academics, however.  She was an artist and taught Temari classes, even appearing on the Martha Stewart show demonstrating the craft of making Japanese Temari balls.  These works of art are considered symbols of friendship and are made of fabric, threads, and silk ribbon.

With the packed schedule that she kept, I most often saw Tamela at the neighborhood IGA grocery store or at the copy shop on the way home from church.  Despite a full slate of job responsibilities and hobbies, Tamela was active in St. John’s Lutheran Church where she was a member.  She made time for family, also.  Tamela was known to plan and organize many special events or casual get-togethers for her family.  She was married to David Wheeler and was mother to Andrew and Aaron.  When the children were small, this doting mother took the time to send us pictures of their family.

Tamela wrote her first children’s book about the Elkmont Fireflies.  “Moondance of the Fireflies” is a story about two little boys on opposite sides of the world who experience the excitement of the special fireflies.  Since Tamela passed away before the book was published, it is dedicated to her memory.  “Moondance of the Fireflies” is available at Barnes & Noble or

Shortly after Tamela’s death, I noticed a beautiful garden in the family’s yard with a flagpole in the center.  On sunny days, I see the flag flying high and proud.  Each time I see it, I am reminded of her spirit, her friendship, and her zest for life.  Andrew, who won a contest in grammar school for his essay on “Character Counts,” is now in high school.  This teacher left us with many “lessons” for our own journey in life:  make the most of each day; use the talents God has given us; treasure the time we have with those we love; and cherish their memory when they are gone.  For though they may be with us for only awhile here on this earth, they are in our hearts always.  I think Tamela would tell us to “enjoy the moment.”  I truly believe she did.