When Sam Wells showed up at Discovery Elementary School in Gig Harbor for his volunteer stint, he wore a tie and suspenders.
Wells passed away this spring, and the students at Discovery Elementary got busy writing their personal messages on paper ties to honor a loved and dedicated volunteer.
“The kids were heartbroken when they found out because it was really losing someone that they adored,” said fifth grade teacher Ron Witter, emphasizing that the ties the kids made were something they worked on for a long time.
“They were very carefully worded and decorated, and kids who would normally rush through this or that took a lot of time,” he said.
Witter gave his class an hour to work on the project, and he said they took the entire hour — some even stayed in during recess to finish up.
“The ties were a way for our kids to get some closure, and were also illustrative of just how much they cared for him,” said Witter.
For 18 years Wells was a loyal and valued volunteer at Discovery Elementary.
“He was an institution,” Witter said.
Witter, second grade teacher Jean-Ann Williamson and third grade teacher Stacy Bigger sat down to reminisce about their good friend who they said always had a smile on his face.
They said Wells took his job seriously. He committed to four hours each day for five days a week. All the kids and teachers knew and valued his service.
Witter said that Wells was very much a people person.
He made more than 1,000 wood cutouts for the kids during his years at Discovery. All they had to do was ask for one, and bingo, in a few days one would appear on their desk at school.
“He carried a note pad in his pocket and would write down the name of the kid who wanted a cutout and then do the project for them,” Witter said. “It would be sitting on their desk when they came to school.”
The cutouts were very popular with students. After finding just the right photo on his computer of the cutout they requested, Wells printed it out and used it as a pattern. He spent countless hours in his workshop to make the cutouts, cutting them with his jigsaw, painting them and mounting them on a stand, said Bigger.
In the beginning of his volunteer career, Wells helped out in Williamson’s first and second grade classroom.
“He started out listening to kids read and during those years you saw him grow in his interactions with kids,” she said. “He always picked the kids who needed him most.”
Williamson said when he volunteered, Wells would start out in her room, and if she didn’t need help at that moment or the kids went to PE, he would wander down the hall and tutor math in another grade. “He was just always there and available, and he was snatched up,” she said.
She teaches a special unit every year on Australia and said that Wells always cut out boomerangs for the kids to decorate. He fell ill last year but he still managed to cut out the boomerangs, she said.
At one time or another Wells volunteered at every grade level. It was a dark day when teachers had to tell the kids that Mr. Wells had passed away.
“We gave them all a blank paper tie and they decorated the tie and wrote messages on back. They all took such care and such time because they wanted to do their very best to honor Mr. Wells,” Bigger said.
Those 450 ties became the tail on a huge kite that was displayed for a week in the library, and then taken to the church for his memorial service.
“The students really poured their hearts out,” she said.
Bigger is planning to build a bench for the school library dedicated to Wells’ memory. The bench will be engraved, “Your friend, Mr. Wells,” since this was the way he signed all of his cutouts. The bench will be dedicated on his birthday, Sept. 25, at a special Literacy Night for students and parents in his honor.
As a tribute to Sam Wells, the Discovery Elementary community is planning to dedicate their entry in the Maritime Gig Parade on June 7 to Mr. Wells.
The parade starts at 10 a.m. and anyone who would like to join in can meet near Puerto Vallarta’s parking lot at 9:45 am. To honor Wells, Witter encouraged all marchers to wear a tie.
“We want to reach out to former students and teachers, families and staff — anyone who wants to walk with us,” he said.
Bigger said that Sam Wells was the heart of Discovery Elementary.
“On Veteran’s Day he was everyone’s honored guest, and he was hounded like a rock star,” she said, adding that the group will be easy to spot at the Maritime Gig Parade. “We’ll be the ones wearing ties, just to spiff things up.”Joan Cronk is a freelance writer for the Gateway. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.