Jack Wells will be missed

A lot of men and women have left their marks on Owensboro through the years.

Some left indelible marks by the lives they led.

People like Elizabeth Munday, who made us think about the needs of senior citizens long before we became senior citizens ourselves.

Or Bishop John J. McRaith, Wendell Ford and Waitman Taylor.

Some left behind iconic buildings that changed our landscape.

Gabe Fiorella, whose “Steakhouse of the South” is still legendary more than three decades after it closed, built a tower motel that stood for 57 years.

Bob Green built the Executive Inn Rivermont, which put Owensboro on the map from 1977 until it closed in 2008.

Some, like Jack Wells, did both.

Wells died in Lexington a week ago today.

And the community was shocked.

He was only 65.

“He leaves a big hole in the community,” Mayor Tom Watson said.

“The impact of Jack’s loss will be felt for decades,” Candance Castlen Brake, president of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, said of him. “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.”

Wells started his career working in the laundry room at The Hermitage long-term care facility for $1.25 an hour when he was 15.

He later bought The Hermitage and built a chain of health care facilities that was at one time the largest long-term health care company in Kentucky with more than 3,500 employees.

“I grew up with not a lot of money, not a lot of anything,” Wells said once. “Anything I’ve achieved is certainly a blessing to me and my family. My father always said, ‘Every tub sits on its own bottom.’ That means you own what you are.”

Wells and developer Matt Hayden teamed a decade ago to begin transforming downtown Owensboro with new buildings and new life.

They built the Boardwalk Pipeline Partners Building, the Holiday Inn Riverfront, Alorica Building and Enclave at Riverfront Living downtown, where Wells had the 10,000-square-foot New York-style penthouse he had dreamed of.

The two bought Towne Square Mall and the old Texas Gas property at 3800 Frederica Street and began redeveloping them.

Many people told stories about how Wells had secretly encouraged and supported them.

Others told of business deals he was still working on at the time of his death.

“His heart and success continued to help so many, especially helping to move Owensboro forward,” Hayden said. “He was bigger than most understood, but he kept true to his roots in Owensboro. I was blessed to have such a great friend.”

So was Owensboro.

By Keith Lawrence Messenger-Inquirer