Remembering Marlene Hoerle

Marlene Hoerle, a trailblazing Plainville leader who helped to create Wheeler and then served as the first chair of Wheeler's Board of Trustees, passed away on December 12, 2023 at the age of 89.
[RELATED: Obituary of Marlene Hoerle]

We asked Wheeler leaders past and present about Marlene's legacy and lasting influence.

"Marlene Set the Standard"

"Women like Marlene set the standard for leadership so many were able to carry forward and expand, and what an absolute thrill it was to hear her wisdom more than five decades after she helped create Wheeler. I will treasure the memory that she was able to attend the ribbon-cutting for our Family Health & Wellness Center in Plainville in 2022, fifty years from when she literally broke ground on Wheeler's outpatient clinic at that same location. I always enjoyed her phone calls, the conversations, and the passion she carried for Wheeler throughout her life. 

May we all be so lucky to find and carry that commitment to our life's purpose until the very end.  She was a treasure."

Sabrina Trocchi, PhD, MPA
President and CEO, Wheeler




"Her Life Was a Testament"

“Marlene’s strength, determination, persistence and vision were the bedrock on which Wheeler was built. Her life was a testament to  the positive impact one person can have on others and the communities we all share. She will be missed.”

Susan Walkama, LCSW
Former President and CEO, Wheeler

"I Don’t Believe Wheeler Has Ever Had a Better Advocate."

"Wheeler is very fortunate to have had many excellent Board members throughout its history. Marlene was a great leader while on the Board and remained committed to Wheeler for the rest of her life. She was lovely, loud, smart, and very funny. I don’t believe Wheeler has ever had a better advocate. Those of us who knew her will miss her."

Dennis Keenan
Former Executive Director, Wheeler

Marlene Hoerle at Wheeler's 50th Anniversary Farm to Table Dinner
September 2018

"Nothing Short of Extraordinary"

"I had the good fortune to work closely with Marlene during Wheeler’s earliest days as she led the governing board overseeing the inception of what has turned out to be a remarkable vision for the then new organization. She headed the board that hired Wheeler’s first staff. It was the same board that, in partnership with Bristol Hospital, the then-New Britain General Hospital and the then-New Britain Child Guidance Clinic that created a community mental health center that met all the rigorous federal criteria and won major construction and staffing grants from NIMH to launch the agency. Marlene earned and retained the trust of all of the partner organizations through these critical early years with her humor, wisdom, judgment and devotion. Her accomplishments as a passionate community volunteer were nothing short of extraordinary!"

Mary Hess
Former Director of Research and Development, Wheeler

"A Force of Nature for Good and for Love of our Mission"

“Marlene’s energy was a force of nature for good and for love of our mission. Until Marlene’s very last weeks, my phone would often ring from a number that I recognized, and it was Marlene, letting me know that she enjoyed our latest newsletter, had seen the ad, watched the news story about us, or was just thinking of Wheeler and thought she’d call to let me know.

Other times, she’d call our Navigation Center to see how they answered the phone, perused deep on the web site to offer her thoughts (and edits) on what was posted, or had thoughts about a national issue she thought we could address. Every conversation, every time, she was always remarkably proud of Wheeler. I always told her the same thing; that what we do today stands on her shoulders from more than 50 years ago.

I have too many Marlene stories to share, but several stick out.

I once learned that a woman with a walker was in the driveway of our Hartford Family Health & Wellness Center, and she had struck up a conversation with a staff member. Our staff was stunned to learn that the apparent stranger was actually our first board president, Marlene, who also just moved down the street and did a daily walk by the building to check on operations.

The other story is one I just learned the other day, when one of Marlene’s daughters called to tell me the news that she'd passed. Over a lifetime well-lived, Marlene carried with her a certificate of appreciation that Wheeler gave her at the completion of her board service in 1975. It was hanging on her wall in the skilled nursing facility. I now have it in my possession, which is a treasure. Equally meaningful is the handwritten note on the back, where Marlene corrects that they wrote the starting year down incorrectly. I adore that so much.

When my own father died, a friend told me to remember him as I choose to remember him. The same will be true with Marlene.  And I choose to remember her from a photo taken when I was two years old, which I was not present for but can see in my mind’s eye.

It was the groundbreaking of 91 Northwest Drive in 1972. It’s clearly a chilly day, and literally everyone else in the photo--a US Senator, a future glass-ceiling-breaking governor, state commissioners and representatives, and national leaders—is dressed in staid, serious earth-tone colors.

And there’s Marlene at the podium, commanding the field with her immaculate bouffant and in a bright-red jacket.

You listened to Marlene, in 1968, 1972, and 2023, because she made you better when you did.

Rest in peace, my friend. We stand on your shoulders every day.”

John Sponauer
Vice President of Marketing Communications and Philanthropic Giving, Wheeler



Do you have a memory of Marlene Hoerle you'd like to share, as it relates to Wheeler?  Please email John Sponauer at

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