Tuesday, April 25, 2017

National Volunteer Week: A Life Well(s) Lived

On a quiet street, in an unassuming house in Lexington, Kentucky there resides an extraordinary man. His name is Wilson Wells, and he has been volunteering with the Red Cross for 65 years and counting. His is the kind of service to mankind that doesn’t get a lot of fanfare (although he has a whole room wallpapered with certificates and accolades), but essentially all of his days on Earth have been dedicated to helping others.

In 1952 in Hinckley, Minnesota Wilson was the pastor of an Episcopal church. He was 28. The Red Cross visited him to ask if anyone in his congregation would like to volunteer for disaster relief. He supplied them with several names; no one bit, and so Wilson stepped up until they were able to fill the gap. Thus began his lifelong service with the ARC.

As one can imagine, Wilson has seen a lot. He has helped with fires, flooding, tornadoes, and hurricanes in Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, West Virginia, Iowa, Illinois, California and Kentucky. He has worked disasters in the Virgin Islands and Guam.

Guam holds some of his most memorable experiences where without access to electricity or showers, the men and women were separated, each bathing in the ocean on separate sides of the island; and, although sometimes all the people had for shelter were tarps supplied by the RC, they would insist on feeding him and his fellow volunteers. Also while there, he was introduced to Ham radio. No phones were in usage, and so these wireless radios were used for all communication purposes. He was inspired to become licensed in Ham, and is very active with it to this day. He is on-air every Wednesday night at the headquarters for the Bluegrass Chapter of the Red Cross, and on Sunday nights, mans a statewide disaster service in Frankfort where his messages are relayed all over the Southeast U.S.

Wilson “day jobs” were also altruistic in nature. After his service in WWII, he gained a degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota and worked at the VA in their psychiatric department. He also attended Seminary School and was the pastor of the aforementioned Episcopal Church. He came to Kentucky to study nursing at Eastern Kentucky University and became Director of Nursing at Appalachian Regional Hospital in West Liberty, Kentucky. He has been active in ROTC, the National Guard and the Reserves. He has volunteered for the Kentucky Foster Care Review Board, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Wilson is now 93 and going strong. At present, through the Bluegrass Chapter of the Red Cross, in addition to his Ham radio work, Wilson volunteers at the front desk of the Lexington VA Hospital every Friday afternoon, and he helps with their program called No Vet Dies Alone, which provides a human touch when a veteran’s family or friends cannot be there for them at the end of their lives.

To quote Tom Brokaw, who authored a book called The Greatest Generation about men and women from Wilson’s era, “Heroes are people who rise to the occasion and slip away quietly.” While Wilson’s life is too big to be boiled down to one quote, this is precisely what he has been doing for decades.

If you are interested in volunteering for the American Red Cross, visit our website at

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