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Bill Kirby Jr.: Homegrown security business celebrates new location

Holmes Security Systems marks its move into a new building on Ray Avenue with a ribbon-cutting Thursday.


Editor's Note: This column has been updated to correct the name of Virginia McQueen McFadyen Rose.

There’s nothing like a homegrown and family-owned business in a community.

You know them.

They know you, their customers.

“Holmes has called Fayetteville home for over 114 years,” Stephen Wheeler said on the eve of a Thursday grand opening of the Holmes Security Systems building on Ray Avenue. “Fayetteville is home for our family and for the 69 employees and their families. Fayetteville has provided for several generations of customers who have been loyal to Holmes through the years. Once you are our customer, you are our friend.”

Wheeler, 63, is president of the business that was founded by his grandfather Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1908 on the 200 block of Hay Street. Oliver Wendell Holmes arrived in Fayetteville to install electrical lines for a downtown trolley and surrounding facilities. Two years later and Holmes Electric was selling electric supplies and services in the community, and by the 1920s moved the business to 127 Hay St.

The business would become a destination for families over the ensuing years, where appliances from refrigerators to stoves to coffeemakers to toasters and household items from radios to televisions had become a part of the American way of life.

There were some tough times, including the Great Depression and an appliance shortage during World War II, but Holmes Electric persevered. By 1944, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. returned from WWII to join his father in remodeling the business to include electrical accessories, housewares, sporting goods and gifts.

‘We’re going to do it’

J.D. ”Luke” Wheeler Jr., son-in-law to Oliver Wendell Homes Sr., joined Holmes Electric in 1950. He was an astute businessman with an eye and a vision for tomorrow, and what Holmes Electric could be all the more in this community.

The security alarm division of Holmes Electric began in 1967.

“Luke started it,” Katherine Holmes Wheeler says about her late husband. “He started it from the get-go. We went to Charlotte to look at a system, and he said, ‘We’re going to do it.’”

Under Luke Wheeler Jr.’s leadership, the burglar alarm business was moving forward. Families wanted home protection and to be alerted about home break-ins or fires. Businesses wanted protection. Schools, churches and government buildings, too.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. died at age 86 in 1971. But with Luke Wheeler Jr. at the helm, the business was in good hands, and a third generation was in the wait.

“I installed my first alarm when I was 14,” Stephen Wheeler says. “My older brother Drexel was home from college that summer. He was working for the company installing alarms. My dad called early one morning and said, ‘Get up! You are working with your brother today. His helper did not come into work today.’

“We went to a school in Spring Lake. We were in the process of installing alarms in all Cumberland County schools. My brother gave me a drill, a drop cord, some screws, some wire and a door switch. He said mount this on the door, and he walked away leaving me standing there. I had never used a drill before and did not know what to do. It took two hours to figure it out. But before the week ended, we had done every door in the building.

“We still have that account,” Stephen Wheeler says.

In 1981, again under Luke Wheeler’s leadership, Holmes Electric began its central station monitoring division. In 1984, Holmes Electric central station monitoring was U.L certified for monitoring.

Holmes Electric was a family affair business, including Katherine Holmes Wheeler’s gift shop that began in 1964. She recalls traveling to Atlanta, Georgia, with her friend Virginia McQueen McFadyen Rose to find unique gifts you couldn’t find in this city.

“We’d go to Atlanta at eight in the morning,” she says, “and come home at eight at night.”

Holmes Electric would expand to Wilmington in 2000 and phase out its appliance business in 2003, the same year Luke Wheeler Jr. died at age 74. Stephen Wheeler would take over the business in 2006, and eight years later Holmes Electric would narrow its business focus to the security system division.

On the grow

You saw Holmes Security Systems signs in homes throughout the city and county. Just one problem. The business was running out of space downtown, which brought Stephen Wheeler, his son, mother and Holmes Security Systems employees and others to Ray Avenue on Thursday for a ribbon-cutting of the state-of-the-art security business.

“This new home is an investment in this community,” he said. “We are proud of Fayetteville and Cumberland County and we made a huge investment in technology. Duncan Hubbard has been our workhorse in this business and Michael Bolton has been our IT leader. We couldn’t have done it without him.”

Or without, he said, his son Luke Holmes Wheeler, the company vice president.

“I hope I don’t get choked up here,” he said, “but my son said, ‘Dad, we have got to move and invest in the future.’”

Luke Holmes Wheeler joined the family business in 2006.

“I told him we need a larger space so we could grow our business to serve our customers,” he said of the new digs, once home to Williams Office Supply. “The bones in this building are perfect.”

Luke Holmes Wheeler is a fourth-generation leader in the business that Thursday received a city proclamation from Mayor Mitch Colvin and brought out a number of city officials, including Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Keefe Jensen and City Council members Shakeyla Ingram, Johnny Dawkins and council member-elect Deno Hondros. Also attending were Cumberland County Commissioners Chairman Glenn Adams Jr. and state Sen. Kirk deViere.

Bittersweet moment

For Katherine Holmes Wheeler the moment was bittersweet as 127 Hay St. always will be a part of her heart.

“I’m excited for Stephen,” said Mrs. Wheeler, who owns the business. “But sentimental about leaving Hay Street. We were there so long.”

She saw her father in her mind’s eye.

She saw her late husband, too.

“I think he would be very proud of Luke and Stephen for starting it,” she would say about Oliver Wendell Holmes. “I think he would be amazed and very proud.”

Among the longtime employees on hand were Mark Lewis, who has worked for the business 42 years; Duncan Hubbard, 35 years; Ann Fisher, 33 years; Deanne Wheeler, 28 years; Michael Kevin Matthews, 26 years; Julie Hathaway, 26 years; Thomas “Tripp” English, 24 years; Tiffany Turner, 22 years; Nathaniel Miguel, 22 years; James Roland, 20 years; and Thomas Page, 20 years.

“The value of having homegrown companies like Holmes Security Systems in our community cannot be understated,” says Robert Van Geons, president and chief executive officer for the Fayetteville Cumberland Economic Development Corp. “The jobs they create, the important services they provide and their willingness to reinvest in the heart of our city exemplify corporate citizenship and civic commitment. The work they have done, transforming a formerly vacant building into a state-of-the-art facility, will anchor future redevelopment in the area and inspire others.”

Stephen Wheeler stood proudly Thursday before his security team and invited guests who included city police officers and firefighters.

“This new facility is an investment in new technology and in our community,” Stephen Wheeler said, “so we will be able to serve our customers for another 100 years.”

Something else you may wish to know about the business.

“I also believe in giving back to the community that supports us,” Wheeler says. “Our staff and I have served on untold number of boards and committees in this area. Crimestoppers is one of the organizations that we have helped lead since its inception. We help and serve on many church organizations, police foundations, Salvation Army, Operation Inasmuch, local colleges and many civic organizations.”


There’s nothing like a homegrown and family-owned business in a community.

You know the owners and the employees.

They know you, their customers.

“Once you are our customer,” Stephen Wheeler says, “you are our friend.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Column, Bill Kirby Jr., Holmes Security Systems, ribbon-cutting, family-owned business, Fayetteville