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A look into the life of Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite, NMJ, Brother Walter F. Wheeler, 33°.

This blog was originally published in The Northern Light Magazine’s Winter 2024 issue.

It has been said that some men have Freemasonry in their blood. That statement surely applies to our new Sovereign Grand Commander, Illustrious Walter F. Wheeler, 33°, who was elected to that position at the Supreme Council’s Annual Meeting in August.

I recently had the chance to sit down with our new Commander and former Director of Charities here at the Scottish Rite to find out more about his family, his Masonic career, and his vision for the Scottish Rite. Walt has an engaging smile, a tremendous outlook, and a great sense of humor. It takes only a second to see that he eats, sleeps, and breathes Freemasonry and that he is, without a doubt, in the position he was meant to have.

Humble Beginnings

Brother Walt was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan on May 12, 1956. The only child of Dale and Helene Wheeler, he has been a resident of western Michigan his entire life. “I used to tell my mother that because when I was born I was perfect, they had no need for other children. She didn’t tend to agree with that statement,” Walt mused.

“We had, I would say, a typical middle class neighborhood. I had a good raising. My parents worked very hard.”

“I’ve been involved with the Masonic Fraternity for as long as I can remember,” he recalled. “My dad was a very active Mason, and I remember going to the Masonic Temple when I was just a little tyke and wandering around and looking through the various halls and closets and going up back stairways and sitting in the Master’s chair at the lodge as just a little kid.”

His father knew early on the benefit of getting Walt involved in the Masonic family. “My dad introduced me to DeMolay when I was 14 years old, and I immediately got involved in it. I will say that when I first was told that I was going to join DeMolay by my dad, he said if I didn’t like it, I didn't have to keep going. But when I joined, I just immediately loved it and I got involved right away.” Thus began his lifelong relationship with the Craft.

An image of a young man and young woman standing outside with trees in the background.
An image of a young SGC Walt Wheeler and his wife Vickie

He is quick to credit DeMolay with making him into the man he is today. “I say frequently it changed my life. I was at introduced herself because I was much too shy to talk to girls back then, and we found out we were going to be at the same high school.”

He got to know her during the following school year and eventually persuaded her to run for Chapter Sweetheart. “Fifty-two years later,” he smiled, “we’re still together.” a point in my life as a young teenager where I could have [gone] down this path or that path, and I think DeMolay helped me go down the right path.”

A young man in a formal blue suit standing next to a young woman in a wedding dress, holding a bouquet.
SGC Walt Wheeler and his wife Vickie at their wedding

He is still active with the organization today as a Chapter Advisor and an Active Member of the DeMolay Supreme Council. There’s another important thing that DeMolay did for Walt that he quickly pointed out. Walt met his wife Vickie at a DeMolay event when they were 15 years old. “Her Job’s Daughters Bethel was visiting my Chapter, and when she walked in the door…” he noticed her.

A young man standing at the altar of a Masonic Lodge
A young SGC Walt Wheeler at a Masonic Lodge


Their 47-year marriage has given them three sons. He beamed with pride as he talked about his boys. “Andrew is our oldest son. Justin is our middle son, and Tyler is our youngest son. Andrew is 45 years old; and lives in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. He and his wife, Kate, have two daughters – Emma, who is 17, and Lizzy, who is seven. Andrew is the parts and inventory manager for a chemical company.

“My middle son, Justin, has been living in the Grand Rapids area his whole life,” he continued. “He’s an attorney specializing in business law and real estate law. He’s married to Becky, and they have two sons – Logan, who’s 12 and extremely tall, and Lucas, who is seven and not extremely tall,” he quipped.

Three men standing together on a golf course looking at the camera.
SGC Wheeler’s sons, Justin, Andrew, and Tyler

“My youngest son, Tyler, is attending Michigan State University. He will be graduating in April with a double doctorate in nuclear astrophysics and computational mathematics. He’s married to Kari, and they have one son, Max, who is five.”

He admitted that adjusting to the move from Michigan to Massachusetts is going to be a difficult one since the whole family is there. “My wife and I have lived in West Michigan our whole lives, and now we are residents of Massachusetts. And so being away from the family, it’s going to be a little bit hard to get used to, but the opportunity to help the Fraternity and to make a difference in Freemasonry, we feel, was worth the sacrifice.”

A man standing in Masonic regalia, smiling for the camera.
SGC Walter Wheeler

Masonic Resumé

Brother Walt’s Masonic resumé is just what you’d expect from a man with Masonry in his blood. He joined Grand River (now Grand Rapids) Lodge No. 34 in 1977 and was Worshipful Master in 1985. He has presided over three Scottish Rite bodies, all three York Rite bodies, the Red Cross of Constantine, and the Allied Masonic Degrees. He is also a member of York Rite Sovereign College, High Twelve, Shrine, Eastern Star, Grotto, and the Rosicrucians, among others.

A father and son standing together both wearing a Scottish Rite cap.
SGC Wheeler’s father, Dale, and SGC Wheeler at Scottish Rite

Most importantly, he served as Most Worshipful Grand Master of Michigan in 2006-2007. Incidentally, he is the first Sovereign Grand Commander who has held the office of Grand Master since Stanley Maxwell.


Walt’s first job was as a travel agent, a job he would keep for 10 years. “We did all kinds of travel – airplane, bus, railroad, booked hotels, cruises. I was a tour guide. We used to do bus tours through New England, and I was the tour guide and I enjoyed that business very much.”

He then had the opportunity to become a partner in a small business. They built a bowling alley. “And when I say built it, we built it from scratch,” he recalled. I can tell you with absolute certainty that every lane has 40,000 nails in it because we pounded a lot of them.” And they didn’t start small. “It was a 40-lane bowling center. We had a restaurant and lounge, and then from there, we expanded. We bought a 20-lane center with another restaurant and lounge, and then we had a small trucking company and a marketing company. We did a lot of shirts for the bowling industry, for companies like AMF, and we owned the rights to the professional bowling logo.”

A man posing next to a statue of a Detroit Lions football team helmet
SGC Wheeler at the NFL Detroit Lions Complex

Following his term as Grand Master, he served three years as Grand Treasurer prior to taking the helm of the Michigan Masonic Charitable Foundation, where he managed the 18 different charities continued on page 26.

under that umbrella. He held that position from 2009 until 2020, and then assumed the position of Director of Charities at the Scottish Rite, NMJ.

His Vision for the Rite

It’s easy to see how the experiences of our new Commander’s life have led him to the position he now holds. So, what does he see in the future? Quite simply: Promise.

“I have said many times that I believe that Scottish Rite is one of the best hopes for Freemasonry, for the future of the Fraternity,” he said. “And I believe that. And I believe that working with the Southern Jurisdiction of Scottish Rite, and the Shrine of North America, and working with our Grand Lodges, that we can fundamentally change our Fraternity, and we can move our Fraternity into the 21st century.”

Two men standing next to each other, one presenting a Masonic apron to another.
SGC Wheeler’s father Dale presents his son with his Grand Master’s apron

He went on to explain why he thinks the role of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction is so crucial to the continued success of the Craft. “I believe that the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction plays a big role in that, because we have the staff, we have the resources, we have the skill sets necessary to make that transition happen. And I believe that we’re one of the few organizations that do. And so, we have to take the lead in that pursuit.”

Walt understands that there are many aspects to taking the lead. First, there is the public-facing aspect of the Fraternity. “The Masonic Fraternity has not always had a good online presence, but the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite does,” he said. “We’ve started innovative programs like ‘Not just a man. A Mason’ and to help our Grand Lodges and to help Freemasonry grow and prosper, which in turn will help us grow and prosper. I believe that Scottish Rite will be the innovators in the future for continuing that online outreach to make a difference in Freemasonry and to help spread the word of what a great organization we belong to.”

He realizes that all of that, though, does us no good if we don’t make the member experience a priority, and that will be one of the first things he focuses on. “Everything about Freemasonry, including Scottish Rite, happens on the local level. So, in our case, it’s on the Valley level. I think it’s incumbent upon the Supreme Council and leadership of our Supreme Council to work with the Valleys on educational opportunities, on leadership opportunities, on Valley operations – how to be more efficient, how to be more member-focused. And I think that we need to be out in the Valleys helping them so that they can be the organization that their members are looking for.”

He realizes that that is a big ask but is optimistic that all of us are up to the challenge. “We can do it,” he said with a smile, “but it’s going to take some time, and it’s going to take some effort on the part of everybody.”

He has vision, he has energy, and he has a commitment to Freemasonry like few others. His goal is simple: He wants to ensure that those who follow will always have the light of Freemasonry to guide them.

“If I had a crystal ball and tried to look at the future and what Freemasonry might look like when my grandchildren hopefully become members of the Fraternity,” he reflected, “I would hope that it was a vibrant organization, a relevant organization, an organization that continued at that time to make a difference in people's lives. Our Core Values of Scottish Rite say it all. If a man can live by those Core Values, then I think he’s going to be a successful person, and he’s going to live a good life. And I hope that that opportunity is there for future generations. And that's what we’re here to ensure.”

As we wrapped the interview and the cameras were being put away, I thanked the Commander for his time. “You know, PJ,” he said, “it really is as simple as this: 29 degrees plus six Core Values equals one extraordinary life!”

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