For those who know the donor George Wells, a longtime supporter of Adventist education, it wasn’t a surprise to learn he was the benefactor who, along with his wife Carolyn, signed the $100,000 check. Pictured left to right: Shiloh Church Associate Pastor James Doggette, Jr; Shiloh Member Christine Wells; George Wells, Carolyn Wells; and Shiloh's Senior Pastor John Boston.
For those who know the donor George Wells, a longtime supporter of Adventist education, it wasn’t a surprise to learn he was the benefactor who signed the $100,000 check.
While large church donations are not unusual, the story of a 5th-grade dropout who grows up to become a successful businessman and gives back to his community is proof a heart grateful to God can bless the lives of many.
George was born Aug. 14, 1942, in a Rose Hill, Mississippi, cotton field. His unusual entry into the world wasn’t his only early difficulty, as his father left to serve in WWII when George was just a toddler. Shortly after his father’s return from duty, George’s parents separated. His father moved to Chicago and George’s mother remarried. She and her nine children remained in Mississippi. “I had very little life of my own,” George recalls. “Most of my time was spent raising my siblings while our mother worked.”
George was forced to grow up quickly. He quit school in the 5th grade to help support the family. “My mother and I would get up at 4 a.m. to be ready to meet the truck that would take us to the fields,” George recalls. “We would spend all day chopping cotton, working about 12 hours a day, Monday to Friday, and a half day on Saturday. If we were lucky, we got a 30-minute break. We made about three dollars a day.”
George’s mother, a faithful Baptist, attended church on Sundays before heading over to the homes of white families that she knew. Doing their washing and ironing brought in another dollar to help support her family.
George had several close calls with death in his young years. Once, when trying to steal from the local store, he found himself with the store owner’s rifle pointed directly in his face. Another time, after winning a game at the local pool hall, he was stabbed in the back.
“I wasn’t getting along with the people around me. I couldn’t deal with Jim Crow,” George explains. One day, teenage George found himself at the local telegram office, trying to send a message to his father requesting money. George wanted to buy a one-way ticket out of Mississippi. Seeking help to send the telegram, George made the mistake of responding “Yes” to a white man’s question, rather than “Yes, sir.” George recalls, “The man slapped me, almost bringing tears to my eyes. I knew I couldn’t do anything. If I hit back, I’d be a dead man.”
Not long after this incident, the sheriff visited George and his mother. The sheriff said it was no longer safe for George to remain there. George’s mother packed his clothes and some food and sent him to the bus station. At age 17, George arrived in Chicago. He lived with his father for a time, but they didn’t get along. George’s father kicked him out of the house, giving him enough money to buy a bus ticket back to Mississippi.
Returning to Mississippi wasn’t an option for George, however. He found himself living on Chicago’s streets and in rodent-infested abandoned buildings. Determined never to return home, George went to the unemployment office, and was sent to Washburne Trade School. There he learned food service. Later, he got a job at The Palmer House, one of Chicago’s most esteemed and historic hotels. Finally, earning what he regarded as “decent money,” George was beginning to find some stability.
About this time, George learned that his father was searching for a downtown location where he could establish an auto repair shop. Eventually, George & Son was born. Despite their rocky history, this father-son joint venture succeeded.
It was while living in Chicago that George first encountered Seventh-day Adventists. He met and married his first wife, Mary Louise, a member of the Shiloh Church. One Saturday, George’s favorite cousin convinced him to come along to a Jehovah Witnesses gathering at the Kingdom Hall. While George was preparing to meet his cousin, Mary Louise convinced her husband to accompany her to her place of worship. As they were driving to Shiloh, the couple passed the cousin on his way to pick up George. They waved. George never made it to the Kingdom Hall.
After several years of studying with Bible workers, George was baptized at Shiloh. Little did he know that he was embarking on a lifetime commitment to doing God’s bidding. “I was put to work right away,” George says. He became an usher, and then leader of men’s ministry. “Every year they put me on something, whether it was the finance committee or the stewardship department,” George explains.
While continuing to run a successful auto shop alongside his father, George remained busy in his church. He taught himself to read and became a Sabbath School teacher. He visited the elderly and helped with clothing distribution. George credits his church family with helping him mature as a Christian. They gave him guidance about what to study and how to strengthen his walk with God. “These people took an interest in me,” George acknowledges. “I found the encouragement I needed to put all I had into my Christian walk.” George admits he was sometimes tempted to take credit for his accomplishments, but he came to realize, “God has done all this for me. When I look at where I came from, I see ‘No way could I have made it on my own.’”
George’s decision to give back to his church encompasses much more than time. Through the decades, he has generously supported the tuition needs at the local church school. He also supported students attending Oakwood University. As one church member points out, “They wouldn’t have been able to attend Oakwood without George’s help.”
George’s recent donation of $100,000 to Chicago Adventist Christian School came about, according to John Boston, senior pastor of Shiloh Church, due to the giver’s “earnest desire to make his life of use to the glory of God. Even though he’s had a lot of success, he often says, ‘What good is it if God is not pleased?’”
When asked about his commitment to supporting the needs around him, George explains, “The need leads me to give. God is a Giver. He blesses us, and so we should bless others." Ever humble, George is quick to add that he feels nothing but gratitude for all that God has done for him. “It’s been a long road to get here,” George admits, “but I made it. Sometimes I pray, ‘God, even if you don’t do anything else for me in this life, I thank you for what you have already done.’” And, as he often does, George adds a favorite refrain, “He blesses us that we should bless others.”
Elijah Horton is a freelance writer based in Chicago.