Dr. Robert N. Wells Jr., Canton, NY, passed away peacefully on December 10, 2021. He had been a resident of the Champlain Valley Senior Community in Willsboro, NY since March 2021. He was 88 years old.
Born September 3, 1933, to parents Robert N. Wells Sr. & Doris (Witterwell) Wells, Bob grew up and attended schools in New Haven, CT.
After graduating from Hillhouse High School in 1951, Bob attended the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he majored in History and Political Science - with a particular interest in International Relations and U.S. Foreign Policy - and received 3 degrees: B.A. in 1956, M.A. in 1963 and Ph. D. in 1969. He was selected by Michigan’s Department of Political Science as their very first pre-doctoral instructor. Bob was also a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and was active with the Michiganensian, the University yearbook, of which he was co-editor. Bob cherished his years at Michigan where he met his wife, Patricia Blickle, cheered on the Michigan football team and made lifelong friendships.
Bob served in the US. Army from 1956 – 1958. Following that, he joined the Ann Arbor Army Reserve Unit which was called to active duty in 1961 due to the Berlin crisis; during this time, he was stationed at Ft. Rucker, Alabama. His unit returned to Ann Arbor in 1962.
In 1965, Bob was offered a faculty position at St. Lawrence University, in Canton, NY, where he settled with his young family and began a career that would span more than 4 decades. He took a 4-year break from teaching to serve as Assistant and Associate Academic Dean, but deeply missed being in the classroom full-time; he served two stints as Chair of the Government Department; in 1984, he was named Munsil Professor of Government. Dr. Wells retired from St. Lawrence in 1999 but remained as an Emeriti Faculty member and taught part-time until 2009. Upon Dr. Wells’s retirement, the Robert N. Wells Scholarship was established and endowed at St. Lawrence. During these later years, Dr. Wells taught courses in the First Year Program, as well as various courses in Political Science, focusing on Native Americans and New York State Politics. Known as a deeply caring and passionate educator with an infectious laugh and warm smile, Bob touched the lives of so many of his students, advised them on graduate school and career aspirations, always encouraged them to think for themselves and inspired them to be excellent citizens. Many will remember him walking or riding his bike around campus and Canton, always with a big smile, and enthusiastic wave of the hand for anyone passing by.
At St. Lawrence, Dr. Wells taught over 20 unique courses, ran several institutes and workshops, was a prolific writer of books, articles, and papers, and wrote and secured over 20 grants, many of which funded educational opportunities for Native American Students. He wrote the first HEOP grant for St. Lawrence University and served as the program’s inaugural director. Over his career, Dr. Wells led several off-campus student trips to Europe, Asia, Russia, and Australia. In 1995, he was selected to be a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. In recognition of his excellence in teaching, he was awarded J. Calvin Keene Faculty Award by St. Lawrence University, the Outstanding Faculty Award, and the Owen D. Young Outstanding Faculty Award, among others. His contributions to committees and various forms of university service are vast. He approached any meeting, committee, grant, initiative or idea with vision, organization, and creativity – he loved his career, colleagues, and students.
Dr. Wells was particularly proud of his work and partnership with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. He was recognized in 1983 by the United South and Eastern Tribes for his long-standing contributions in helping the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe through the development of the Akwesasne Library, the Operation K Tutoring Program, and the first Upward Bound Program through St. Lawrence.
Bob was devoted to the Canton community and was a well-known leader and organizer for many projects including the fundraising for the Canton Recreational Pavilion and the Msgr. Griffith J. Billmeyer Memorial Playground at Canton’s Banford School. He was a member of the Canton Central School Board for many years and served as mayor of Canton from 2001 – 2007. Bob worked closely with his longtime colleague, Peter Van de Water, to establish the Canton Community Fund in 2000. An avid Rotarian, Dr. Wells was awarded the Paul Harris Humanitarian Award by the Canton Rotary Club. He was also recognized by the Canton Lions Club with a Community Service and Leadership Award, by the Canton VFW Post with a Community Service Award, and was given the Outstanding Citizen Award by the Canton Chamber of Commerce.
Though Bob kept very busy with his professional and community projects, he cherished time spent with family the most. A devoted father, husband and friend, Bob was a careful listener who always prioritized the people he loved. He enjoyed quiet times at home reading The New York Times, writing handwritten notes, and visiting with guests on his front porch. He was always an enthusiastic fan at his children's sporting events and he found time to coach Pee Wee hockey and baseball teams. Bob was well-known for his love of college and professional sports teams – especially St. Lawrence Men’s and Women’s Hockey, the New York Giants and University of Michigan football; one of his final joys was watching on television a bit of the recent Michigan victory over Ohio State!
Surviving are his wife of 61 years, Patricia B. Wells of Canton; daughters Cynthia Wells of Canton, and Gretchen (James and son, Jack) Haynie of Ipswich, MA; son, Chris (Kate) Wells of Canton; a brother, Curtis (Lou) Wells of Mayville, TN, as well as nieces, nephews, and several cousins. Known lovingly as “Papa” by his 5 grandchildren, Audrey Mooradian of Boston, MA; Paige Mooradian of Nantucket, MA; Laura, Bobby, and Sarah Wells of Canton, Bob was a faithful fan at many of their sporting events and performances; he loved vacationing with them on Cape Cod each summer, taking them to the Dairy Princess parades, the St. Lawrence County Fair and was always up for an ice cream cone at Morgan’s or Stewart’s.
The Wells family would like to thank Mr. Paul Sibbitts for helping to care for Bob over the past few years, the Champlain Valley Senior Community staff who provided Bob with excellent care and compassion over the past several months, as well as High Peaks Hospice who provided additional care most recently.
There will be a private family ceremony and burial; a celebration of Bob’s life will be planned for spring or summer 2022 in Canton. Those wishing to honor Bob with a memorial donation may do so by donating to the Robert N. Wells Scholarship Fund at St. Lawrence University, the Canton Community Fund, or a charity of one’s choice.
Memories and condolences may be shared online at www.olearyfuneralservice.com. Arrangements for Dr. Robert N. Wells Jr. are under the care of the O’Leary Funeral Service of Canton.
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