It was my great honor to present the obituary tribute to my dear friend and colleague, Gary Wells, at his memorial service today at Northwood Christian Church in Springfield Oregon:
Gary Hale Wells was born Jan. 4, 1932, in Boise to E.H. and Ruth Williams Wells. He died May 30, 2009 in Springfield, Oregon at the age of 77.
Gary grew up in Boise and his was active at Boise First Christian Church, which is now named University Christian Church. Gary graduated from Boise High School in 1950. Early in his high school years he met the love of his life, Hallie Morris. They dated throughout high school and were married on April 22, 1951.
Gary and Hallie moved to Eugene, Oregon, where he attended Northwest Christian College, (now University) graduating with a Bachelor Degree in Theology in 1955. Their first daughter, Linda, was born during their time at NCC. While a student, Gary served at Pleasant Hill Church of Christ, co-ministering with the late Rev. Sam Anderson. He also pastored at Irving Christian Church.
Gary had a passion for both ministry and education all his life. After graduating from NCC, they moved to Clarksburg, Indiana, which is near Indianapolis. He earned his Master of Divinity degree from Christian Theological Seminary, followed by a Master of Science in Speech Communication from Butler University, both in Indianapolis. At the same time he served as the minister of Clarksburg Christian Church. The three boys, David, Timothy and Jonathan were born during their time in Indiana. The family shared that Hallie typed all of Gary’s papers. With all of that work, Hallie probably deserved an honorary degree, as well.
After having earned three degrees, and with six years in Indiana, the Wells prepared to enter full time ministry. As all of you know, Gary and Hallie always approached each decision in their life with prayer. At this important moment they were ready to serve God anywhere in the country. Well, with the exception of California.
So, as you’ve already probably guessed, they were called to Oakdale, California. Gary plunged into his new work. In six years the church had grown to 150 members, built a building and the congregation was debt free. Janet, daughter #2 and child #5 was born in Oakdale.
Gary’s next ministry was in Santa Cruz, on the California coast, at Garfield Park Christian Church (now named The Circle Church). He served there for fifteen years, developed a successful small group model, and was known as a compassionate and skilled pastor and counselor. It was also at Garfield Park that Gary pioneered the program called Associates in Ministry, which he continued after he came to Northwood. Over 25 individuals have gone into the ministry as a result of Gary’s mentorship and that program’s impact, including our own pastor, Barry Lind.
In 1981, the Wells decided it was time to try a new road on their journey. They moved to Eugene. Northwood was looking for an interim minister at the time, and Gary and Hallie agreed to accept that call. What no one realized that it would end up being a 13 year interim. All right, not really, because the church called him to be the senior minister. During his ministry here, along with his pastoral leadership, Gary helped Northwood grow from a small neighborhood congregation transitioning into its second generation to a church positioned to grow into a significant community presence. He continued the AIM program offering NCC students the chance to explore ministry. Gary also began his very popular “Walk Through the Bible.”
At the same time, true to his love of higher education as well as ministry, Gary became the chaplain at Northwest Christian College. That is where our lives intersected, because I was the Vice President and Dean of Students at NCC while Gary served NCC students as chaplain, counselor, and taught on the faculty in speech communications and pastoral ministries. He was a wonderful colleague and we spent many hours working together. Gary retired from NCC in 1993.
He continued his pastoral work for another two years, retiring in 1995 from Northwood. NCC granted him a richly deserved honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree in 1996. His citation stated:
Gary Hale Wells, (NCC ’55), minister, retired, is awarded the doctor of divinity, honoris causa, in honor of distinguished leadership within the church and the community. Twenty-seven men and women, most of them Northwest Christian College students, have participated in a ministry training program designed by Gary. The internship combines mentorship with academic requirements and practical aspects of ministry, and result in highly motivated and capable ministers early in their careers.
Gary and Hallie spent the years of their retirement active in the lives of their children, as well as the life of the church. As pastor emeritus, Gary served with the same integrity that he had served throughout his ministry.
That is a brief walk through the life of Gary Wells, lover of Christ, husband, father, grandfather, greatgrandfather. Pastor, educator, leader, man of integrity. One who lived the fruits of the Spirit and dedicated his life to help others find that Christ who gives those same fruits to all who love him, too.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, that will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better. (NAS, Phil 1:21-23.