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Walgreens manager retires after 38 years

By ALLISON MILES
April 27, 2011 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated April 26, 2011 at 11:27 p.m.

Larry Wheeler has the distinction of having opened four Walgreens in Victoria. A pharmacist as well, Wheeler is retiring after 38 years of service. His next step is to take a cruise through the Panama Canal.

Larry Wheeler's Walgreens career:

1973: Begins his pharmaceutical career at a Corpus Christi Walgreens

1974: Moves to Victoria, where he takes at job at Walgreens' Town Plaza Mall location

1984: Opens the Walgreens inside Victoria Mall.

1991: Opens the Walgreens at 2701 N. Navarro St.

2006: Opens the Walgreens at 2906 Houston Highway. Not involved in the new store at 5204 N. Navarro St. because it opened only a few months later.

2009: Opens the Walgreens at 9005 N. Navarro St.

April 28, 2011: Wheeler's last day at Walgreens

Did you know?

It was once popular to open pharmacies inside of shopping malls. Both the Town Plaza Mall and Victoria Mall once housed Walgreens stores.

The Walgreens inside Victoria's Town Plaza Mall boasted a restaurant and was one of the main meeting places in town.

Victoria's biggest Walgreens store is at 2906 Houston Highway.

The Victoria Walgreens at 2701 N. Navarro St. was among the first stores in the company to be a free-standing building.

Source: Larry Wheeler, store manager for Walgreens, 9005 N. Navarro St.

Larry Wheeler's Thursday will begin much like any other.

He will wake, prepare for work and make the half-mile drive to his job as Walgreens store manager at 9005 N. Navarro St. But not everything will be business as usual.

After 38 years with Walgreens, Wheeler will retire. Thursday is his last day.

Wheeler began his career in 1973, shortly after finishing pharmacy school. Although he began at a Corpus Christi Walgreens, he soon learned of an opening at a Walgreens inside Victoria's Town Plaza Mall.

"People in Corpus told me I wouldn't like Victoria because it was too small and there wasn't much to do," the Oklahoma native said. "But I wasn't from a big city. I said, 'They've got a Sears and a Penneys. It's a thriving metropolis.'"

Victoria was a good fit for Wheeler, a self-starter. He enjoyed the seclusion the city offered from larger cities, he said, as well as the independence.

He remained at the Town Plaza location until 1984, when he opened a store inside the current Victoria Mall. As time wore on, he opened up three other stores, as well.

Today, he said he believes he's the last store manager in his district who is also a pharmacist.

Wheeler has gathered numerous memories through the years, from pharmacies moving out of malls to transforming the Airline Road Walgreens to a 24-hour store, but he said his favorite memories involve the people he worked with.

"I've had sisters where one after another worked here," he said. "I've felt like I had an influence when people went on to become pharmacists or managers. It's a lot of fun to go to stores and see people I hired 20, 25, 30 years ago."

Wheeler hired Evila Ortiz 29 years ago, and she remains with the company as a sims coordinator, who organizes inventory. She said she'll miss seeing her boss and mentor at the store.

"He really cares about his employees," she said. "We're like a big family here. And he'll go above and beyond what he has to do to help you out."

That's something Cynthia Bates, a Walgreens customer service representative, experienced firsthand.

A while back, she arrived at work with a large cup of iced tea, the beverage she sips throughout her workday. When she drank down two large glasses in 15 minutes, Wheeler realized something must be wrong.

"We found out my sugar levels were just through the roof," she said. "He took me to the hospital and made sure I got better. He's the best boss you could ever have."

Wheeler attributed his success to his wife of 44 years, Kathy Wheeler. An active member of the community, she cared for their two sons, provided support and looked after the home.

"She's always allowed me to work my job," he said. "A lot of times that means 12-hour days or working holidays. Easter, Christmas, I have to work. She's been very special."

As for filling his time away from the store, Wheeler isn't worried.

He leaves Friday for a 15-day cruise on the Panama Canal. With family in Alaska and Montana, he hopes other travel plans are in his future.

Wheeler will also indulge in some fishing at the Port O'Connor home he purchased about a year ago.

He doesn't plan to be completely free and clear of Walgreens, however. He said he will still drop by now and again.

"The store is in my heart," he said. "I've done this for 38 years. I love retail and I love the people. I'll be checking on it."

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