Kenneth Jensen Wheeler was a UW student in the 1930s. A landscape architecture major and member of Sigma Phi fraternity, he died tragically of a brain aneurysm just before graduation.
Wheeler’s grandfather, the famous Danish-born landscape architect Jens Jensen, designed the Kenneth Jensen Wheeler Council Ring in the Arboretum. The council ring motif was important to Jensen as a symbol of American democracy, with ties to the ancient rings of his native Denmark and to American Indian council fires that embraced egalitarianism. Well-known for his park designs in Chicago, Jensen was a leader of the natural design movement.
Some say that the Civilian Conservation Corps built the Wheeler Council Ring after Jensen designed it — others give credit to Kenneth’s father, Harold Wheeler. Perhaps the young men in the CCC helped by quarrying the stone nearby. Jensen corresponded with William Longenecker, then director of the Arboretum, about the plants to be used around the ring and the type of ceremony that would dedicate it. He chose native plants such as hawthorns, crabapples and wild roses because they symbolized virtues that could be attributed to his grandson.