Earl J Wheelwright

03/26/1928 — 10/30/2019

From Richland, WA | Born in Rexburg, ID


Fri, November 15, 2019, 7:00 pm
Fri, November 15, 2019, 8:30 pm
Einan’s at Sunset
915 Bypass Highway

Richland, WA US 99352

Funeral Service

Sat, November 16, 2019, 10:00 am
Sat, November 16, 2019, 11:00 am
LDS Thayer Chapel

1720 Thayer Dr.

Richland, WA US 

Graveside Service

Sat, November 16, 2019, 11:00 am
Sat, November 16, 2019, 12:00 pm
Sunset Gardens
915 Bypass Highway, Richland, WA 99352

Earl J Wheelwright

Earl J Wheelwright, age 91, passed away peacefully in the family home in Richland, Washington, on October 30, 2019. He was born to William Henry and Mary Arvilla Wheelwright on March 26, 1928, in Rexburg, Idaho. He is the oldest child from that marriage and has two younger sisters. William’s first wife passed away during childbirth, and he married Arvilla who also became the mother of his three children from his previous marriage. During high school, Earl’s debate team was Idaho state champions. He participated in track and football for Madison High School and later played for Brigham Young University on a football scholarship. When his brothers were called away to serve their country during World War II, Earl got up at 4:00 am prior to his going to high school each morning to drive their Wonder bread truck to make deliveries and help maintain his brothers’ business to support their families. Earl met his eternal sweetheart, Rayola Howell Wheelwright, at age 16 when she was attending Ricks College and visited his ward. Rayola asked him to a Sadie Hawkins dance within a few weeks and they dated for the next three years. They were married June 10, 1947, in the Salt Lake LDS Temple by Spencer W. Kimball.

Earl graduated from Brigham Young University with a B.S. in Chemistry and Iowa State University with a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry. While at Iowa State, Earl was fortunate to be assigned to department chairman and world renowned chemist Dr. Frank Spedding. Upon graduation, Earl was recruited by several companies but chose General Electric at Hanford and the family which now included three children moved in 1955 to Richland, Washington. He later joined Battelle in 1965 and worked there for the remainder of his career. Earl pioneered the development of ion-exchange processes of selected actinide and fission-product elements. These included the co-development of widely used anion exchange processes for final purification of plutonium; an exchange method for the purification of promethium-147; and separation and purification procedures for americium, curium, and strontium-90. As a task leader in the Nuclear Waste Vitrification Project, Earl was responsible for the design, construction, and operation of a “hot” pilot plant facility for processing fully irradiated commercial nuclear fuel and recovering the high-level waste. He became the program manager for efforts to separate and purify yttrium-90 for medical use including cancer treatment which is still used today and for a process to leach plutonium from waste. Throughout his career, Earl was recognized as a leader in his field and was sought after by the Department of Energy for review committees and by other agencies for consulting purposes because of his vast expertise. He became one of Battelle’s first Scientist V’s in 1977. In 1993, Earl became PNNL’s first recipient of the prestigious Glenn T. Seaborg Award. He became a Fellow of the American Nuclear Society in 1994. Earl authored twenty-five professional journal articles, fifty reports and three book sections on chemical process development and the properties of fission products. He holds nine patents.

Although he was widely respected in his career, Earl’s priority was his family and his church. After arriving in Richland, he and Rayola had three more children. In 1962, when land was available, they helped form a corporation with other families and developed and constructed their own subdivision where they lovingly built their current home and raised their six children amongst choice friends. Earl was an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He faithfully served in many positions including stake president’s counselor, bishop’s counselor, stake mission president, high priest group leader and high councilor. In 1982, Earl and Rayola began working as ordinance workers in the Seattle LDS temple. They drove four hours each way twice a month and later each weekend to fulfill their temple assignments. In 1994, they were called to serve in the New Jersey Morristown mission. During their 18 month mission, Earl served as a counselor to the mission president. His leadership experience and love for the missionaries was a great asset to the mission. When the Columbia River LDS Temple was built, Earl was called to serve as first counselor in the temple presidency and later as the temple president. This six-year temple assignment was a time of great happiness for Earl as he and Rayola worked closely together serving our Heavenly Father full-time and making many new friends.

Earl exemplified hard work. He was resourceful and skilled at fixing most things at his home. He was known for having a well-maintained yard and grew a large garden. Earl enjoyed fishing, participated in genealogical research, and served the Boy Scouts of America for many years including two terms as president of the Blue Mountain Council. He was honored with Scouting’s Silver Beaver Award. He was always a man his children and grandchildren could look up to and respect. Earl spent a lifetime being an example of kindness, love, sacrifice, integrity and service. He courageously fought through serious medical issues more than once and lived on borrowed time for years in order to stay on this earth and continue to care for and be at the side of his “eternal sweetheart” Rayola. His love for and devotion to her has impacted all those who knew him and is his greatest legacy. Earl was a gentle and humble man who loved and had a strong testimony of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and tried to be an example of Him throughout his life.

He was preceded in death by his loving wife of almost 72 years Rayola; daughter-in-law Sandi Wheelwright; great-grandchildren Clarissa Wheelwright, Cody and William Phipps; his parents; brothers Don and Ralph Wheelwright; and sisters Annabelle Wheelwright and Edna Mae Chantrill. He is survived by his sister Arvilla Nilsson. Earl’s greatest joy was his posterity. He leaves behind children: Dean Wheelwright, Carolyn Wheelwright, Ross (Ruth Ann) Wheelwright, Scott Wheelwright, Paul (Laura) Wheelwright and Marie Wheelwright Loosle along with 18 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren.

The family will meet with friends Friday, November 15, 2019, from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at Einan’s, 915 Bypass Highway Building H, in Richland. This will be the only public viewing. Funeral services will be held at 10:00 am on Saturday, November 16, 2019, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints located at 1720 Thayer in Richland. Interment will be at Sunset Memorial Gardens, 915 Bypass Highway, in Richland.

The family would like to express their gratitude to the many friends, neighbors, and church members, as well as Earl’s caring medical professionals including Dr. Erick Isaacson and the PCM staff for their numerous acts of kindness, service and compassionate care during his final years.

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Earl J Wheelwright

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  • While serving as a sealer in the Columbia River Temple (from when it first opened to mid-2008), I learned a great lesson from this wonderful and no-nonsense temple president. When doing a sacred temple marriage, don’t try to be funny or cute at the expense of the bride or groom. Looking back from hind sight, it was not a pleasant experience at the time but was fully deserved. Thank you, President Wheelwright. I have never repeated that particular mistake.

    D Brent Clement
    May 2, 2020
    Meridian, Idaho
  • Earl, I’ll never forget the first day we met at your home. You and Rayola looked at me surprised! You were over 6ft tall and I was barely 5 foot. How on earth is this little nurse going to be able to take care of my husband (Me reading Rayola’s mind).

    Your family and I fell in love with each other and the rest is history. Earl, I will never forget you. You are so special. Rest In Peace, my patient and friend.


    Doris Githere - RN
    February 11, 2020
    Denver, Colorado
  • I do wish I could have been there to pay my highest respects. Earl was an example to emulate, always having a smile and loved engaging in conversation. RIP good friend until we meet again. Love, Respect, Honor!

    Rodney Wright
    November 16, 2019
    Richland, WA
  • Priesent Wheelwright has a special place in my heart he gave me the best words of encouragement before I went home from my mission in New Jersey that to this day I find Strength from them. I loved this man and I wish I could have let him know this while he was on this side of the vail. With sadness but gratitude in my heart… thank you for the impact you left on me.

    Elder Crofts

    Allen Crofts
    November 16, 2019
    Hyrum UT
  • It was a pleasure to serve with President Wheelwright in the New Jersey Morris. We really appreciate his leadership and knowledge. Your family is in our prayers.

    Jerah Martindale
    November 16, 2019
    Ashton Idaho
  • I loved Elder Wheelwright. He was a counselor on my mission in Morristown. He was kind, smart and love us missionaries fiercely. What a wonderful man.

    Jon Croasmun
    November 15, 2019
    Kaysville, Utah
  • I so loved visiting with Earl after the passing of his dear wife. His compassion for others knows no bounds. Each time my husband would come to the home to check on Earl and briefly visit we learned how special he really is. My husband and Earl discovered they share something in common regarding chemistry. It was a delight to watch the two collaborate on memories over the years. Upon saying goodbye after each visit Earl would shake my husband’s hand, give me a hug and a tender kiss on the cheek. I will always remember his goodness, tenderness and gentle ways. We are going to miss our visits with Earl.

    November 9, 2019
  • Our faith and prayers are with the family. Everyone loved uncle Earl. May the Lord bless and sustain you at this time as you mourn the loss of your loved one.

    Jack and Laura (Wheelwright) Hill
    November 8, 2019
    Burley, Idaho
  • This obituary brought me to tears! Such a beautiful caring compassionate loving man! What a legacy he has left! The world will be a lesser place without you.

    Jenine Henrie Snarr
    November 7, 2019
    SLC Utah
  • I was the secretary for the then Applied Chemistry Group, PNNL, 325 Building, for over 11 years, where I met Earl. He was such a kind and wonderful gentleman. considered him my friend. My sympathy to all his family.

    Loretta Maki
    November 5, 2019
    Pasco, Washington