Irreplaceable. Community giant. Owensboro advocate. Mentor. Friend. Jack T. Wells was described as much more than just a businessman Sunday following the news of his death, and it was evident he spent the last few decades making a truly positive impact in many aspects of life.
Wells was 65 when he passed away.
One friend described Wells as the embodiment of the American dream, someone who worked hard to continuously grow his brand and use that success to give back to his community.
Wells began his career making just $1.25 an hour as a 15-year-old working in the laundry room at Hermitage Nursing Home on West Parrish Avenue. He worked his way through the ranks and later bought The Hermitage, eventually owning what at one time was the largest long-term healthcare company in the state with more than 3,500 employees.
His reach went well beyond healthcare, though. This year, Wells was serving as chairman of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce.
“Jack Wells was a tireless Owensboro advocate,” said Candace Castlen Brake, Chamber President and CEO. “Jack loved his hometown and worked behind the scenes to impact nearly every project of significance over the past 30 years. He was a true business genius. He had an innate ability to quickly assess situations and create success in ventures where others could not. He truly had the Midas touch.”
Brake added: “Above all, Jack was humble and kind. In meetings, he made it a point to listen more than he talked. He engaged everyone and made each person feel important. His gentle and soft-spoken demeanor always brought an air of dignity to any situation.”
With the proceeds earned from the sale of his healthcare business in 2007, Wells began purchasing real estate.
In 2010, Wells formed a business partnership with Matt Hayden for the purpose of purchasing properties in downtown Owensboro.
Together they developed the buildings for Holiday Inn Owensboro Riverfront, Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, Alorica and The Enclave at Riverfront Living. They also purchased Towne Square Mall and the old Texas Gas property to develop.
In 2014, Wells told Owensboro Living, “I wanted to be a part of the revitalization of downtown [Owensboro]. My personal vision is to create a living destination for downtown, encompassing art and events, and creating fun, great shopping, great food, and an overall environment where people want to live.”
Wells’ business partner Hayden is president of real estate brokerage company Gulfstream Commercial Services. Gulfstream Chief Operating Officer Ed Ray spoke highly of Wells.
“He had such a kind soul and giving heart that very few knew about but so many benefited from. He listened more than he spoke and his handshake was his bond,” Ray said. “He could have invested his hard-earned finances anywhere but chose to invest in the community where he lived, which is rare these days and realistically what was — and is — needed to continue the success Owensboro has achieved over the past decade. Saying he will be missed is such and understatement. No words can do justice to what he meant to us all.”
In 2011, Wells bought the Canteen Service franchise. According to their website, “Canteen has grown tremendously, more than doubling its geographic area and now providing services to 116 Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee counties,” during the Wells era.
In August 2014 while with Canteen, the Wells partnership group purchased John Conti Coffee Company, which roasts more than two million pounds of coffee annually.
Wells was an Owensboro High School and Kentucky Wesleyan College graduate. Wells was named the KWC Outstanding Alumni in 2011, and he was named to the KWC Alumni Hall of Fame Class of 2014. He served on the KWC Board of Trustees since 1994 and served as Chair of the Board from 2001–2005.
He also has chaired the boards of the Elizabeth Munday Senior Center as well as the Hospice and Palliative Care of the Ohio Valley. He sat on the boards of Girls, Inc., the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, Republic Bank & Trust, Owensboro Health and Independence Bank at various times in his career.
Mayor Tom Watson said Wells was so involved with the community in so many facets, it will be a tough loss for Owensboro.
“Jack was one of those irreplaceable people in a community that comes along once in a generation,” Watson said. “His giving nature, his kindness to those in need made OBKY special. I know I’m a better person for having known him.”
Brake offered similar sentiments.
“The impact of Jack’s loss will be felt for decades,” she said. “But the impact of the businesses and jobs he created and nurtured will live on. And his role as mentor to countless people will continue to impact us forever. We are heartbroken. We have lost a community giant. And we have lost a true friend.”