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Coppell High School’s 1965 valedictorian Wheelice “Pete” Wilson died on Feb. 2. Wilson was a CHS teacher for 36 years, a founding member of Theatre Coppell and a proactive member of the Coppell Historical Society. Photos courtesy Theatre Coppell.

Legacies made, legacies left

Locals grieve passing of iconic community member, former CISD educator

March 29, 2022

The Coppell community and school district lost a legend on Feb. 2 with the death of Wheelice “Pete” Wilson.

Wilson’s time at Coppell High School produced the Black Box Theatre, fittingly titled the Wheelice Wilson Jr. Theatre. His time at CHS came to an end after directing 99 productions, but his love for the theater pursued. This began Theatre Coppell a passion project bringing together like minded individuals with an affinity for fine arts.

In the early 1960s, a decision was made to expand Coppell School into a full 12-grade school, and a grade was added per year until 1965. Pinkerton Elementary served as a backdrop for Coppell’s first graduation ceremony in May 1965. CHS graduated its first class of 25 students, previously high school-aged students transferred to Carrollton High School to graduate. 

Wheelice Wilson Sr., Ruby Nell Harlin Wilson and Wheelice (Pete) Wilson Jr. in the early 1950s. Wilson’s family moved to Coppell in 1946, after Wilson Sr. returned from World War II. The Wilson’s resided in old downtown Coppell at 417 W. Bethel Rd. Photo courtesy Coppell Historical Society

Among the first 25 graduates was Wilson who was the first valedictorian of CHS and the original titleholder of ‘Mr. CHS.’ Wilson was not the only family member to tie themselves to the district, his grandparents, J.J. Harlin and Bulah Harlin, rented the farm across from present Pinkerton Elementary School, his father Wheelice Hart Wilson is the namesake for W.H. Wilson Elementary, Coppell ISD opened in 1992. All of his siblings graduated through CISD.

“Pete Wilson was not only my mentor as the head of CISD Theatre, but he got me heavily involved in Theatre Coppell,” CMS North theatre teacher Brittany Reese said. “I learned so much from him being in his shows. His love of theater and teaching was always present whether it was at CHS or at the old Fire Station on Moore Road. He dreamed of a Black Box Theatre at CHS and made it happen. He dreamed of an amazing fine arts complex for the city of Coppell. He made that happen. That was Pete Wilson, the man who made dreams come true.”

Wilson dreamt many dreams that are tangible today, after directing 99 plays as a CHS theater teacher he went on to establish a tight-knit community theater that continues to usher in audiences following in his seasoned footsteps. 

CISD Superintendent Dr. Brad Hunt shares a unique perspective as someone who worked under the same roof as Wilson as both a teacher and principal. Hunt recognizes Wilson’s continued influence on Theatre Coppell and fine arts within the community. 

Theatre Coppell founder Wheelice “Pete” Wilson was a major influence in building the Coppell Arts Center. The Coppell Arts Center’s 30-year history culminates in a facility that connects local arts groups to the broader community.  (Camila Flores)

“Mr. Pete Wilson was one in a million. He did so much for education in our community and specifically fine arts,” Dr. Hunt said. “He was a trailblazer who has impacted the lives of so many people. He could take talented kids and make them shine brighter and find the more shy kids and turn them into a star. There are no words to adequately describe the impact he has made to this community. His legacy will live on with the work he has done to showcase the arts in Coppell.” 

Later in life, Wilson widened his horizons, moving beyond high school level theater, and founded Theatre Coppell in 1999. In its early years, the group of volunteers utilized an unused fire station as the Coppell Center for the Arts. Wilson held the role as artistic director of Coppell Community Theatre where he selected shows, marshaled volunteers and directed most of the productions.

Wilson also had a love for his city’s history, often uncovering lost information on his own and gathering archived photos. His outlet for his curiosity became thousands of photos and numerous papers documenting Coppell’s history, working under the Coppell Historical Society. He was a catalyst driving many of the city’s major projects, including the creation of Heritage Park. 

Heritage Park, spearheaded by Wilson, commemorates downtown Coppell, the location of general stores, a post office, a bank, a drug store, blacksmiths, schools, churches and homes. Today it is a part of the city’s revitalization plan of Old Coppell, now dubbed Old Town Coppell. 

CHS Principal Laura Springer remembers Wilson as a theater teacher and a significant contributor to the theater scene both on a high school basis and locally. He represented a future that Springer saw for her students. 

“We call him Mr. Pete Wilson,” Springer said. “He is just a kind, hardworking humorous character. I remember his laugh, it was something that you never forget, it was deep hearted true laughter. He was everything we want our kids to be successful: kind, hardworking, loving and generous. He was all of the things we want CHS graduates to be when they go out and make their mark on the world.”

Follow Anette (@AnetteVarghese) and @CHSCampusNews on Twitter.

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    Donna WigginsMar 30, 2022 at 7:04 am

    Mr Wilson will always and forever be my favorite teacher and person. He wasn’t only my English teacher, he was my Bible school teacher. I’ll never forget the fun we had performing the production of “Oliver”. He will always be remembered as one of the best at every thing he touched.