Three Decades of Commitment
Donnie Wheatley, resident 1959 – 1966
By the time he turned 12, Donnie Wheatley tended toward trouble. His mother, a single woman raising five kids, was having difficulty making ends meet. Donnie initially went to live in a foster home, but the placement didn’t work out. Next, he went to Boys Home.
At first, Donnie didn’t want to be at Boys Home, and he ran away. Soon, though, he decided to use his time more constructively. He reached a particular turning point in eighth grade. “When I was in the eighth grade, Mr. Burrowes, who was director at the time, asked me if I’d given any thought to going to college.” Since no one in his family had graduated from high school, “It wasn’t on my radar screen,” Donnie says. But Mr. Burrowes gave him some good advice.
He said, “If you think you might like to go, you need to act like you want to go from the first day of high school.” That made an impression. Donnie began to pay more attention to his grades. In addition to being a good student, he participated in sports, student government, and worked at jobs on campus.
By applying himself, and with letters of recommendation from several Virginia Military Institute graduates, Donnie earned acceptance at the institute and a State Cadetship. After graduation, Donnie attended Virginia Tech and worked on a M.S. in electrical engineering. In 1971, he entered the Marine Corps, where his engineering degree allowed him to get into data processing. Resigning in 1974 as a Captain, U.S.M.C.R., Donnie went to work in the private sector for Proctor & Gamble. That didn’t stop his educational achievement, though. He earned an M.B.A. from Valdosta State College, and completed courses toward a Masters in Education through Georgia State University.
Years before, Donnie had talked with Mr. Burrowes about returning to Boys Home, but at the time his career was well on its way. Life and family, however, moved him toward a return. Donnie married his childhood sweetheart, whom he began dating in high school. The two of them and their family moved back to Covington, and Donnie went to work for Westvaco. They had been back in the area for three years when the position of executive director at Boys Home opened.
The associate director approached Donnie to apply for the position. “I didn’t feel like an electrical engineer with an M.B.A. fit the criteria, because they were looking for someone in the social services field,” Donnie says. But his commitment to the institution and his interest in its continued success impressed the search committee, and they chose to hire him. Donnie began his role as executive director in 1985; more than 35 years later, his commitment remains every bit as strong.