Chris Wiley’s impact on north Omaha extends well beyond the hallways at his high school.
It’s the multiple generations of young people whose lives he touched. It’s the countless doors and possibilities he opened for students unaware of their own potential. It’s the miles and miles he walked with students through life’s ups and downs.
As one North High student put it, his impact is unforgettable.
“Mr. Wiley was just one of those people that you’ll never forget,” said Sanjaya Bolton, who will be a senior at North.
Wiley, a North High guidance counselor and one of a few African-American male counselors in the area, died Monday, a day after celebrating his 65th birthday among friends and family at Risen Son Baptist Church.
“It’s a devastating loss,” said the Rev. T. Michael Williams, his pastor at Risen Son.
Williams, who became friends with Wiley in 1986, said Wiley was a man of strong morals and faith who dedicated himself to his family and students. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
Wiley began working in the Omaha Public Schools in 1999. Before North, he taught fifth grade at Skinner Magnet Center and worked with children at the Urban League of Nebraska.
“Our hearts are heavy with grief,” read a statement from OPS. “Chris Wiley has selflessly served the Omaha community and our youth for decades. He leaves behind a legacy of mentorship, encouragement and support for thousands of kids in the Omaha community — current students and alumni. He will be greatly missed at Omaha North, OPS and throughout the city of Omaha.”
Giovanni Jones, now 45, was one of Wiley’s first students at the Urban League when she was 12. Jones regarded Wiley as a father after losing her own at an early age. He invited her over for dinner with his family, drove to Lincoln to give her a ride to her college graduation and checked in on her throughout her mother’s illness.
That’s the kind of support he offered to the hundreds of students he taught and counseled.
Jones said Wiley inspired her to become a teacher. His dedication to his community taught her about the importance of giving back.
“The biggest lesson I learned from him is you never forget your community,” Jones said. “You never forget to reach back and give a helping hand.”
Wiley had a way of making each person feel special, Jones said.
“He must have been a low-key, real-life superhero because that’s the only way I can imagine that you have that much energy to give to others,” Jones said. “When you give, sometimes you get depleted, but it seemed like he always had an ample supply.”
Bolton, president of her class at North, said she originally planned to run for vice president, but she sought the highest position after encouragement from Wiley. That’s one example of the ways he pushed her and other students to challenge themselves with harder classes and new opportunities. He taught them they can accomplish things they never thought possible.
“He’s always a No. 1 supporter,” Bolton said. “He always wants the best for everyone ... he wants to see everybody succeed.”
When she speaks at graduation next year, Bolton said, she knows she will mention him as a testament to all the lives he influenced.
His current and former students now face the task of living up to the lessons he instilled in them, Jones said.
“I have to pick up my piece of the mantle that he left behind. I have to run with that,” she said. “That’s how I honor his legacy. That’s how I honor his drive and his compassion and his legacy.”
A public funeral service is planned for 11 a.m. Monday at Salem Baptist Church. Visitation will be 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sunday at North High.