125 Years

Gene Wells, 53-year Cardinal staffer, had quiet but ‘unparalleled’ loyalty

The Cardinal's copy desk has practically been around since the paper's beginning, and Gene Wells was a mainstay for years. 

Image By: Morgan Winston

For The Daily Cardinal, Gene Wells was the first to report on the 1963 Vietnam War protests in Madison during his first semester at the paper. Following that—for more than 50 years—he was a fixture at the Cardinal.

In this time, he filled many roles: He was a news editor (elected in 1964), copy editor (elected in 1988), arts writer, opinion writer (until as late as 1998) and pro-bono lawyer.

And that’s not even the full list.

Born on May 29, 1942, Wells went on to get a degree in journalism from UW-Madison in 1965 and his Juris Doctor there in 1969.

Wells was one of a kind—his dedication and loyalty to The Daily Cardinal were “unfailing and unparalleled,” according to former copy chief Justine Jones.

When she first found the copy desk and began to train for her election, she heard Wells’ name from other chiefs, but didn’t know what to think of him. He attended her election as he did for many elections. At a student paper, turnover is high, but Wells was a constant.

At Jones’ election, he did not speak much. He only handed her a copy of The Badger Herald, opened to the sports section and asked her to tell him what the mistake was.

She couldn’t find it. There were 12 names in the cutline, Wells explained, but there are 11 people on the field at a time in the photo it described.

Then the election continued, but Wells’ input was done. And that was how it typically went. Wells didn’t speak up often, but when he did, it was invaluable.

Jones worked hard to learn more about sports following this experience.

“After that, through my chiefdom, there was a part of me that felt I had to make it up to Gene. I learned a lot about football,” Jones said. “He attended almost all copy elections in this manner, and has as far back as any copy chiefs I know can remember.”

This was how Wells operated, choosing his words carefully. He lived with a speech impediment, one that made him unsure if he was being understood, according to The Daily Cardinal Alumni Association President Anthony Sansone.

“Most shied away from Gene. His appearance was unkempt and his speech odd,” Sansone said. “That was their loss. His writing was unbelievable; read anything he wrote and his insight was breathtaking.”

Though he wasn’t the wealthiest, Wells donated at least $100 to the Cardinal every year, according to Sansone.

On Dec. 2, 2016, The Daily Cardinal lost its only 53-year staffer, one who impacted several generations of students working at the paper. He was 74.

The current Cardinal staff and so many generations prior miss Gene Wells dearly.

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