KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Charles Wheeler, former Kansas City mayor and Missouri politician, died at the age of 96.

Wheeler served as mayor from 1971 to 1979 and as a member of the Missouri Senate from 2003 to 2007.

During his eight years as mayor, KC saw the construction of the Kansas City International Airport, Worlds of Fun, Crown Center, and the Truman Sports Complex. Bartle Hall and Kemper Arena were known as “Wheeler projects.”

A new downtown airport also opened while he was in office in 1972. It was renamed the “Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport” in 2002 in honor of his service to Kansas City, that is remembered today.

Charlie Wheeler was my dear friend, an important mentor, and the most visionary Mayor in the history of our great city. During my eight years as Mayor, I was blessed to have had the likes of Charlie Wheeler, Ike Davis, and Dick Berkley as guides through the best and worst of times—and our city was better off for it.

U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO)

Wheeler was born in 1926 and grew up in Kansas City, graduating from Westport High School.

He then went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisville while also serving in the United States Navy from 1944 to 1946.  

He continued his education, earning his medical degree in 1950 from the University of Kansas.  
Wheeler served as a captain and flight surgeon to the original Thunderbirds in the U.S. Air Force until 1953.

His first political victory came in 1964 when he was elected Jackson County coroner, serving in office from 1965 to 1967. He was elected mayor of Kansas City in 1971 and served until 1979. 

Nearly 30 years later, voters elected him to the Missouri state senate, where he represented the 10th District of Missouri from 2003 to 2007. Following his time in the senate, Wheeler ran for three other offices, including Missouri governor in 2016, but was defeated.

The former mayor received the American Medical Association Benjamin Rush Award in 1981, the UMKC Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984, and the University of Kansas Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1997.

“Mayor Wheeler was a statesman all Kansas Citians, Missourians, and Americans could be proud of, who in addition to his service in elective office bravely served our country in the U.S. Navy as a flight surgeon before returning to school to earn his juris doctorate. Since becoming mayor, I have been proud to call him a personal friend and a mentor. He will be missed,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said in a statement.

Wheeler is survived by his daughters Marion and Nina. He was preceded in death by his sons Gordon, Mark, and Graham, as well as his wife of seven decades, Marjorie.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.