La Grande, Oregon
Bert L. Wells, 79, formerly of La Grande, died Sept. 28 at his home in Yakima.
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He was born Nov. 5, 1929, to Mr. and Mrs. A.B. Wells in Grandview, Wash. His primary and secondary education was completed in the Grandview area and he worked various jobs at fruit processing plants throughout high school. After a year of employment at an airport terminal in Point Barrow, Alaska, he took a job through General Electric at the Hanford Nuclear site outside of Tri-Cities, Wash.
He was drafted in 1951 and spent the majority of his service in Japan as secretary to a colonel. His literary and typing skills spared him from combat and soon his musical talents were also recognized. He performed with the band, Far East Rangers, at officers’ clubs while in Japan and continued to play in dance bands in the Tri-Cities, Walla Walla and La Grande after returning home.
He married Elinor L. Wells on April 5, 1953, in Grandview and they moved to Richland to continue his employment at Hanford. Participation in a talent show hosted by Yakima’s first TV station, KIMA, launched his musical entertainment career. Their station in Tri-Cities (KEPR) needed a star for a cowboy program for kids called “Buckaroo Time” and Bert was remembered from this talent show and was immediately recruited. He sang and played his guitar on this show for six years and met some famous entertainers of the day including Rex Allen, Tex Ritter, Annie Oakley and Ronald Regan. Bert even turned down an invitation to tour with the legendary Gene Autry. Musical ballads were his specialty and he wrote approximately 50 songs in his lifetime, some of which were recorded by Key Records in Hollywood.
While music and entertainment continued to play a significant role in his life, his focus turned to college education and his family. He graduated from Walla Walla College, taught high school English, earned a master’s degree, became a speech professor at Eastern Oregon University and raised three children: Kathy, Steve and Jeff.
During his 25 years at Eastern he also initiated and lead the competitive speaking team and enjoyed competing (and often winning) against much larger schools. As an entertainer and public speaker, he traveled extensively during this time through the Knife and Fork and Executive Dinner clubs and in the 1980s, he was selected as the best speaker on the national circuit.
Many people in La Grande know him as a KLBM radio DJ from the 1960s-1970s and from his frequent Master of Ceremony engagements. He MCed everything from high school commencement ceremonies to art festivals and parades. Speeches titled, “May You Never Reach Your Goal,” and “Please Listen, In Chinese” may ring a bell to La Grande residents. He was invited back by the La Grande Chamber of Commerce for 10 consecutive years.
He and his wife spent their first 12 years of retirement along the Oregon Coast after retiring from Eastern in 1989. They returned to their roots in south central Washington in 2003 and instead of beachcombing and trapping crabs, his past-time attention turned to writing one-hour programs that he performed at numerous senior facilities, primarily in southern Washington. He enjoyed tailoring these entertainment segments of humor, poetry and music to the senior audience.
He also enjoyed seeing and hearing from people from his past – particularly grown-up kids who sat in his live Buckaroo Time audience in the 1950s.
Survivors include his wife, Elinor Wells of Yakima; children, Kathleen and her husband, Michael Hetrick, of La Grande, Steven Wells and his wife, Kelly, of La Grande, Jeffrey Wells and his wife, Tomi Wells, of Yakima.; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
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La Grande Observer – October 05, 2009