$400K bequest to be shared

Little League, church richer

Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Bill Wells was a quiet man who focused on his family and his work, friends and relatives said. But since his death in December, the wider Kenai community has discovered that he also was a generous philanthropist.

Tuesday, his son Kevin Wells met with representatives of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Kenai and the Kenai Little League to turn over a $400,000 bequest.

"There are no strings attached to the money," the younger Wells said. "He knows you will spend it well."

William Henderson Wells moved to Kenai in 1953. He raised five children and founded Kenai Supply, which grew into a family-run chain of building supply stores. He was 86 when he died.

Kevin Wells, his eldest son, explained his father's motives.

His father was not Catholic and not particularly religious, he said. But his mother, Cleone, who still lives in Kenai, is a devout member of the parish. The elder Wells was impressed by the church's good work and its role in his wife's life, so he provided for a donation to the Roman Catholic Church to honor her.

"I know in my own mind that's why he did it," he said.

Bill Wells bequeathed $240,000 to the archdiocese and $80,000 to the Kenai parish.

The $80,000 gift to the Little League came from his father's fond memories and love of children, Kevin Wells said.

"My father liked little kids. He wasn't always that crazy about adults," he said.

The Wells children grew up in the neighborhood of the ball fields and the four brothers played.

Kevin Wells was one of the first boys signed up when GIs stationed at Wildwood, then a military base, started the Kenai baseball program back in the late 1950s.

"I think that was the first Little League team they had here," he said. "They would buy us milk shakes at the end -- no matter how we did."

He praised the small town fun, family involvement and constructive influence Little League offers.

"It's a terrific organization," he said.

After the senior Wells died, the family sold Kenai Supply. Spenard Builders Supply purchased the Kenai store and Alaska Pipe and Supply bought the Anchorage property. Kevin Wells lives in Anchorage and is working on the transition. His brothers Keith and Kerry live in Soldotna.

The recipients, meeting informally around Sister Joyce Ross' kitchen table next door to the church, said bequests of this size are rare. They praised the Wells family and Nikiski's Jim Arness, the executor of the estate, for the cooperative and smooth transfer.

"This is the first time I've had anything like this," said Ross, who has administered the Kenai church for 10 years. "It is humbling and gratifying."

The archdiocese receives many bequests, but seldom this large and without strings attached.

The will asked the archdiocese to pass 20 percent of the donation on to Presentation College, a Catholic school in South Dakota that Cleone Wells once attended. The rest will go to support church work in Southcentral Alaska, said Jim Caldarola, director of stewardship and development for the archdiocese.

He said Bill Wells met with him two years ago to discuss making a gift.

"So this wasn't really a great surprise, but it was a nice one," he said.

Our Lady of the Angels does not yet have specific plans for what it will do with the money. Ross intends to meet with the parish council and the finance and stewardship committees to discuss parish and community needs, she said.

The bequest was a big surprise for the Little League, said David Gemmell, who heads the organization.

"We've never received a gift like this," he said. "This is a total windfall and totally unexpected."

The money is going into the bank account until the 15 members of the Little League board decide how to disburse it.

The group probably will use much of it as an endowment to pay for scholarships for children and part of it to repair the group's building, which needs major maintenance, he said.

Gemmell praised the support of Alaska business people like the Wells family.

"If it were not for the support of the community, we wouldn't have a Little League. We are a total nonprofit," he said.

Arness, who was unable to attend the Tuesday meeting, said the Wells family members are modest people who appreciate their community.

"They are a quiet family -- not politically involved or whatever -- just hard-working people," he said. "They never ask for anything."

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