Forty years ago anyone from Kenai walking into Kenai Supply (now The Salvation Army Store) would know the woman working there was Cleone Wells.
Her husband, Bill, may have been working on a contract plumbing job. Outside helping a customer get lumber may have been their oldest son, Kevin. The next two boys might be helping customers, along with Anne, the only girl and Kerry, the youngest,. This was a family run business and all in Kenai knew everyone in the family helped run it.
Cleone was born in South Dakota. She didn’t attend business school. In fact, she got her education as a teacher. However, two years of walking several miles to school, starting the wood stove and teaching in a one room school in South Dakota was long enough for her to know there had to be better ways to make a living.
World War II started and many women were needed in the workforce. Cleone joined some of her friends and moved to Washington, D.C. to become a secretary. She lived there for most of the war. One time she even was asked to model a possible uniform for the WACs.
Later she moved to San Diego, Calif., working as secretary for the Navy. Here is where she met and married, Bill Wells. Bill was working for the civil service. He decided he wanted more excitement, so in 1947 they drove to Alaska. Now that was excitement driving the Alcan in those days!
They first moved to Fairbanks but decided Anchorage had more to offer. Anchorage life for them began in a tent, but they were lucky to move into a house before Kevin was born. In 1953 they moved to Kenai. Here they began the Kenai Supply business at first called Kenai Plumbing and Heating. Before it closed in early 2000 it was the longest continuous business in Kenai.
Cleone has many memories of those early days. If she and her friends wanted entertainment they had to make it. She recalled one night the radio had some great dancing music but there was no place to dance. So they danced on the bar.
There was no reason for fancy clothes, but every now and then her friends would decide to get all “dolled-up” just for the fun of it to attend some meeting or other. On one such occasion she was wearing her high heels and fancy dress and as she stepped into her friend’s truck, her high heel went straight through the truck floor (I forget if she lost her shoe).
I feel sorry for the people who work at The Salvation Army. They never got to meet Cleone and enjoy her wonderful sense of humor and the wonderful person she is.
This column was written by Margaret Menting with the Kenai Historical Society.
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