Chancellor Herman B Wells: We were "lucky" to have known him
Chancellor Herman B Wells: We were "lucky" to have known him
March 19, 2000
EDITORS' NOTE: Photographs of Chancellor Wells are available from the Office of Communications and Marketing, phone 812-855-3911. Digital images for publication are available on our Web site at http://newsinfo.iu.edu/OCM/wellsphotos/wellsphotos.htm.
BLOOMINGTON -- Herman B Wells, an educational visionary who helped transform Indiana University into an internationally recognized center of research and scholarship and the only person in its 179-year history to lead it three times, died quietly at his home in Bloomington late Saturday (March 18). He was 97.
In recent months, Wells suffered from heart problems which ultimately led to his death. Funeral arrangements are pending, and IU will comply with Wells' wishes.
Wells, recently named IU's "Man of the Century," served the university as its president for a quarter century and remained a vital contributor as its chancellor for another 37 years. Under Wells, the university experienced its greatest growth and widened its scope to encompass the globe.
As chancellor, Wells remained active on the campus where he resided and was much beloved, frequently attending university events. Last year, Wells was named by the Indiana Historical Society as one of 13 Hoosier "living legends," just one indication of the recognition he humbly received during his lifetime.
"Chancellor Wells was, quite simply, a great man, one of the exceptional figures in higher education this century. If it were not for his vision, his leadership, his passion and his hard work, IU would not be the university that it is today," said IU President Myles Brand.
"Of course, the title of Chancellor Wells' autobiography was Being Lucky, but I always have thought that those who followed him at IU were the lucky ones. Among other things, Chancellor Wells passed along to his successors a first-class faculty, a world-renowned School of Music, outstanding international programs, and a steadfast commitment to research excellence and academic freedom," Brand added.
"But what was particularly important to me is that Chancellor Wells was not just a figure in the history books. Even at age 97, he seemed to be everywhere on campus. And he was always willing, when asked, to offer wise and straightforward advice. I am deeply saddened by his death. I know I will miss him, and I'm sure the community will as well."
John D. Walda, president of the IU Board of Trustees, added, "When I think of Herman B Wells, I think of the words of John F. Kennedy who said, 'Things do not happen; things are made to happen.' Chancellor Wells made wonderful things happen not only at Indiana University, but in the lives of everyone with whom he came in contact. He changed my life, and I will remember him with respect and affection."
Wells initially served as IU's acting president in 1937-38, as IU president between 1938 and 1962, and as interim president for three months in 1968. Since 1962, Wells served as the university's chancellor.
Born in Jamestown, Ind., on June 7, 1902, Wells was the only child of a banker, Joseph Granville Wells, and his wife, Anna Bernice Harting Wells, a former teacher. His mother came from a family of nine children, all of whom had middle names beginning with B. "This tradition, though somewhat diminished by my parents' inability to agree on a name, resulted in the 'B' that is the whole of my middle name," Wells explained in his autobiography, Being Lucky.
In his memoir, Wells recalled his childhood years in Jamestown as simple, peaceful and happy. He played alto horn in the Jamestown Boys' Band, took his mother shopping in his pony-drawn cart, and shucked corn and milked the cow on the family farm. The family later moved to Lebanon, Ind., where Wells was very active in high school, graduating in the top 10 percent of his class. After school and on Saturdays, he worked in his father's bank.
Wells attended the University of Illinois (1920-21), but transferred to IU after one year. In his memoir, Wells wrote of having to overcome his father's objections to the transfer and described what happened to him when he moved to Bloomington. "From the beginning I fell in love with Indiana University," Wells wrote. "It was a simple place in those days, with not yet three thousand students, but it had great charm and appeal for me."
As an IU senior, Wells led his fraternity, Sigma Nu. His other campus activities included playing in the IU band and hanging out at the historic Book Nook on Indiana Avenue, which Wells described as "a remarkably fertile cultural and political breeding place in the manner of the famous English coffee houses."
Wells planned to follow in his father's footsteps in banking, and earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration in 1924. He then spent a year working as assistant cashier at a Lebanon, Ind., bank, which was followed by graduate study at the University of Wisconsin and IU. He completed a master of arts degree in economics at IU in 1927.
Afterwards, Wells accepted a position as field secretary with the Indiana Bankers Association, and he worked for the organization to strengthen and professionalize financial institutions during 1928-31, the early and turbulent years of the Great Depression.
In 1930, Wells accepted an instructorship in economics at IU, and commuted from Bloomington to Indianapolis for a year while completing research for the association. From 1931 to 1933, he was secretary and research director of the Study Commission for Indiana Financial Institutions and played a major role in the rewriting of Indiana's state banking laws.
Three years later, he accepted a post as assistant professor of economics at IU, but went on leave to work as supervisor of the state's Division of Banks and Trust Companies and the Division of Research and Statistics in the Department of Financial Institutions.
In 1935, Wells faced what ultimately was the crossroads decision of his life, whether to succeed William A. Rawles, who was retiring as dean of the IU School of Business (now the Kelley School of Business). After much soul-searching, Wells accepted and began a career in academic administration that spanned four decades.
"It seemed to me a fanciful idea. I finally concluded that if it were the wish of the faculty, the president and the trustees, I would assume the post -- foolhardy as that decision might seem," Wells wrote.
Two years later, during a midnight phone call, Wells was offered the job of acting IU president, after the retirement of William Lowe Bryan in 1937. Wells told judge Ora Wildermuth, then chairman of the IU board of trustees, that he would agree to accept the post on one condition -- that he not be considered for the presidency. Nevertheless, Wells excelled in the role and agreed a year later to become IU's 12th president in its then 118-year history.
Prior to World War II, one of Wells' ambitions had been to travel in Europe, but the challenges of his job always seemed to get in the way. In his new role as IU president, Wells brought European influence to southern Indiana by attracting scholars from the region when their countries were overrun by invading armies. Wells encouraged many scholars to take refuge in Bloomington, and they not only enriched the faculty community, but enlarged the university's horizons.
Among those Wells encouraged to join the IU faculty were Nobel Prize-winner Hermann J. Muller; another landmark geneticist, Tracy M. Sonneborn; and Dr. Harris B. Shumacker Jr., a pioneer in heart surgery.
Under Wells' leadership, the size of IU's student body grew enormously, from about 11,000 in 1938 to more than 31,000 in 1962. Keeping his finger on the pulse of what was going on with students was a hallmark of his presidential style. He greeted students during frequent walks around campus and regularly conferred with student leaders.
Of the impact of Wells' career, IU Vice President and Chancellor of the Bloomington campus Kenneth Gros Louis observed, "Herman Wells knew how to build a great university and gain broad-based popular support for it. That achievement, however, is not as great in my mind as the particular atmosphere he created on the Bloomington campus, one that has touched the lives of all those who joined the university family during his presidency and who have become part of that family in the years since his retirement.
"He always said that the spirit of a place was its most important attribute, and he always worked tirelessly to enhance it at Indiana University," Gros Louis added. "For me, the warmth of his being is his greatest legacy. Those influenced by it have done all they could, in ways lesser than those employed by Wells himself, to maintain and enhance the particular atmosphere that has attracted and retained superb faculty and staff, persuading them to spend most, if not all, of their academic careers in Bloomington, Indiana."
Wells gained national recognition early in his academic career with major appointments to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the American Council on Education, the Association of Land Grant Colleges and Universities, and the National Association of State Universities. He already had been named one of "America's Ten Outstanding Young Men of 1939" by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce.
His opportunity for international service came at the end of World War II, when he was appointed a special adviser on liberated areas for the U.S. Department of State and a minister of the Allied missions, observing the Greek elections. In 1957, he was chosen as a U.S. delegate to the 12th General Assembly of the United Nations.
Wells' other international activities included advisory roles with UNESCO, as head of the U.S. delegation to Bangkok for the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization Preparatory Commission on University Problems, and as a member of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations in 1969.
Wells' service to foreign governments earned him the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1960; the Thailand Government Award of Commander of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant in 1962; and the Thailand Knight Commander (Second Class) of the Most Noble Order of the Crown in 1968.
Wells was named university chancellor upon his retirement from the presidency in 1962, at which time he also was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree. Other honorary degrees were awarded by the universities of Notre Dame, Columbia, Ohio State and California, to name a few.
Wells received the B'nai B'rith Great American Traditions Award; the first Excellence in Education Lifetime Achievement Award from the Sons of the American Revolution; the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce; and six prestigious Sagamore of the Wabash designations from Hoosier governors. On Dec. 11, 1998, Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon honored Wells as a "Hoosier Millennium Treasure" during Indiana's 182nd birthday celebration.
Not content to rest on his academic laurels, Wells continued to work for the university in the capacity of mentor and advocate of its welfare. Reflecting on his life and career, he wrote in his memoir, "With full knowledge of the trauma, travail, blood, sweat and tears the office demands, I would eagerly undertake the glorious chore again. For me no other career could have been so satisfying. I have been lucky and happy in my life work."
(Christopher Simpson, 812-855-0850, firstname.lastname@example.org)
1924: Bachelor of science degree in business administration from Indiana University
1927: Master of arts degree in economics from IU
1935: Appointed professor of economics at IU
1935-37: Dean, IU School of Business Administration
1935-72: Professor of business administration
1937-62: Chairman of the Board for IU Student Foundation
1937: Acting president, Indiana University
1938-62: President, Indiana University
1962-present: Chancellor, Indiana University
1968: Interim president, Indiana University (Sept. 1-Nov. 30)
1972-present: Professor emeritus of business administration
1928-31: Field secretary, Indiana Bankers Association
1931-33: Studied bank failures and how to prevent them as secretary and research director, Study Commission for Indiana Financial Institutions. His work toward redrafting banking laws revitalized banking in Indiana, setting a national example.
1965-68: Director, Indiana Judicial Study Commission
1973-present: Board of Directors, Lilly Endowment Inc.
1997: Presented his sixth Sagamore of the Wabash award by Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon on the occasion of Wells' 95th birthday
1998: Named a "Hoosier Millennium Treasure" by Gov. O'Bannon
1999: Named an Indiana living legend by the Indiana Historical Society
1964-65: Vice chairman, National Commission on Humanities (recommended federal support)
1965: Member, President's Committee on U.S.-Soviet Trade Relations (recommended increased trade)
1967: Member, President's Special Committee on Overseas Voluntary Activities (recommended safeguards against CIA's funneling of money anonymously to American voluntary organizations overseas)
1991: Given the first Excellence in Education Lifetime Achievement Award from the Sons of the American Revolution
1941: Traveled to Latin America to forge connections for IU
1943-44: Deputy director and special adviser on liberated areas, U.S. Department of State Office of Foreign Economic Coordination (helped rehabilitation of devastated war areas)
1946: Observed Greek elections as member of U.S. delegation
1947-48: Acting chief for educational and cultural affairs and adviser on cultural affairs to the military governor, U.S. Occupied Zone, Germany (helped establish post-war education system in the American sector of Germany)
1957: U.S. delegate to the 12th General Assembly of the United Nations
1958: Member of a group of educators who visited the Soviet Union to examine higher education
1959: Traveled to Tehran, Iran, to affirm Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's dream to use education as the means for modernization and democratization of Iran
1959: Adviser to the Ministry of Pakistan
1960: Served as head of U.S. delegation in Bangkok of Southeast Asia Treaty Organization
1966-74: Advised Emperor Haile Selassie I as member of committee studying Haile Selassie I University in Ethiopia
1968: Journeyed to Bangkok, Thailand, to discuss educational development with King Bhumbibol Adulyadej
1974: Surveyed education in Nigeria for the Ford Foundation
1991: Presented with the B'nai B'rith Great American Traditions Award for his lifetime dedication to humanitarian service
For a comprehensive list of Wells' accomplishments and honors, see Who's Who in America 1999.
(Susan Dillman, 812-855-0850, email@example.com)