By Alexandria Kiwanis
ALEXANDRIA, VA – Kiwanian Donald Carle Wells was born July 23, 1922 to Charles Shelley and Marie Virginia Wells. A commissioned officer in the United States Navy, Wells is no stranger to service.
In addition to his military service, Don has given over six decades worth of service to the Alexandria community. He was the PTA President of Maury Elementary School in 1961; volunteered for the Special Olympics; Alexandria District Chairman for the National Capital Area boy Scouts of America from 1969-1971; Salvation Army Chairman of the Advisory Board in Alexandria; President of the Alexandria Bar Association; Dean, Elder, Chair of the Congregation and Trustee for First Christian Church of Alexandria; and long-time member and past President of the Kiwanis Club of Alexandria.
Now 96 years old, members of the Kiwanis Club of Alexandria sat down with Wells to have him reflect now only on his service to the community but his 60 years of perfect attendance as a Kiwanian. Here is our interview with Don Wells:
Where did you grow up?
I was born on July 23, 1922 in Cambridge, Maryland on the Choptank River but in 1937, our family relocated to Bethany, West Virginia.
Do you recall when you first became aware of Kiwanis?
My wife, Eleanor, and I moved to Alexandria in 1951 where I joined Davis and Ruffner Law Firm, a company that managed the settlement of house purchases. I joined Kiwanis on May 8, 1958 as a way to become more involved with the “movers and shakers” of Alexandria.
Until 1987, Kiwanis was a male-only club, but the wives of many Kiwanians played a significant role. How was your wife involved in that organization?
Initially known as the Ki-Wives, close to 30-40 women met monthly for luncheon meetings at the Christ Church on King Street. My wife, Eleanor, also attended. They organized many small fundraisers to support the work of their husbands and the work of Kiwanis at-large. They made clothes for dolls the Salvation Army was giving out at Christmas, they furnished a room at Guest House, a local Alexandria nonprofit, and they collected gym bags and filled them with personal articles for children of incarcerated parents.
What are some of the project you remember most after you joined?
The most humorous project was the Duck Dash. Yellow, rubber duckies with unique numbers written on their bottoms, were sold to individuals as a fundraiser. The prize was a donated new car. The duckies were dropped into Cameron Run off Eisenhower Avenue and very slowly, they flowed over the rocks and retaining wall type dams. The day of the event was during a drought so the duckies had to be pushed over the dams with sticks. As each ducky passed over the lower dams, great cheers went up. Several hours were spent but a winner was announced!
You were the club’s 56th President in 1972-73, what was the highlight of your tenure?
I attended the Annual International Convention in Montreal, Canada with Eleanor and Peck & Barbara Davis. I enjoyed it so much that we all attended the 1977 International Convention in Dallas, TX, where my oldest brother Chunk and his wife Virginia lived as well as the 1991 International Convention in Baltimore, MD.
You have achieved a goal that very few reach, perfect attendance for over 60 years. What inspired you to achieve this?
I’ve always been a person who attempts to squeeze the most out of life. I participated in many Kiwanis committees and wanted to challenge myself to achieve perfect attendance. I knew this meant attending other Kiwanis chapters, either locally or while on vacation, plus attending Board meetings.
Do you have any stories from your efforts to achieve perfect attendance?
Well a big help in attending lots of other chapter meetings was Kiwanian Charlie Pearson who owned and piloted a small, 4-seater plane. In one day, Charlie, myself, and 2 other Kiwanians flew to a breakfast meeting in Myrtle Beach, a lunch meeting at another site, an afternoon meeting and the Alexandria Chapter Board meeting. Four meetings in 1 day!
In what club committees and events did you participate during you Kiwanis career?
I was the chairman of the spiritual aims committee meaning I was responsible for the annual seasonal message, blessings at all weekly meetings and special events. I was also responsible for sending sympathy cards on behalf of the club.
You were the Skipper of the S.E.S 145 Kiwanian. Describe how that came about and about your involvement.
I worked with a Navy gentleman who located available boats on Little Creek in Maryland, to help start a Sea Scouts Chapter in Alexandria. A boat was picked out and a man named Joel was able to get the Woodrow Wilson Bridge builders to bring the boat up on the barge that was used to transport materials for the bridge. A Sea Scout leader from Baltimore moved to Alexandria and became the Skipper. He trained the Scouts and, on the S.E.S. 145 Kiwanian, took them on trips down the Potomac on to the Inner Harbor and almost to Delaware.
Around Veteran’s Day each year, you participate in a seminar at the Sandberg Middle School on your experiences in World War II. How did that begin and for how long?
Sandburg Middle School on Fort Hunt Road and Little Rocky Road Middle School in Chantilly have invited me to an event each year where the students ask questions of visiting war veterans. I participated in the June 6, 1944 D-Day Invasion (delivering troops and Gen. Teddy Roosevelt, Jr. to Utah Beach), the Invasion of Southern France in the Mediterranean and the Okinawa Invasion against the Japanese in the Pacific Ocean. This was all as a deck officer (Ensign, USNR) aboard the USS Barnett, an attack transport (armed troop ship). After the War, I helped deliver occupation troops to Tokyo. I continued to serve out 20 years in the Naval Reserve on destroyers in anti-sub duty, retiring as a Lt. The most frequently asked question by the students is, “Did you kill anyone?”
What has been the most satisfying experience with Kiwanis?
Definitely the Salvation Army bus project. Henry Clark bought the bus for the Salvation Army, but it was in Georgia. Henry was able to get the Pepsi plane to fly 8 people to Georgia. They were, Kiwanians Peck Davis, Henry Clark, myself and others, plus Marshall Cleary, the Head of Alexandria Salvation Army. They arrived in Georgia where they got the bus and took turns driving the bus back. I had never driven a bus before so they let me drive for 8-10 minutes.