Joplin Tornado

Dean Wells, 59 | Hero guided others to safety

Updated: 2011-06-20T19:30:44Z

By BRIAN BURNES

The Kansas City Star

His family knows that Dean Wells died a hero.

Wells, 59, head of the electrical department at the Joplin Home Depot, was working his 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday shift when the tornado hit.

“He rescued about 12 people, getting them all to safety,” said DeAnna Mancini, one of Wells’ two daughters. “He was rescuing two children when a wall came down and collapsed on him.

“My father died a hero, but that was my father. He was always helping everybody.”

Wells was the only Home Depot employee to die in the tornado, said Craig Fishel, Home Depot spokesman. According to reports, rescuers recovered seven bodies at the store.

Wells, born at Fort Carson, Colo., had a long career in the U.S. Army before he and his wife, Sue, began looking for a place to retire.

They decided on Webb City, just northeast of Joplin, in 1993. It was close to great fishing, which Wells enjoyed. It was close to Arkansas, where Wells had grandparents.

And it was close to Girard, Kan., where Sue had grown up.

“He loved my mother more than life,” Mancini said. Last Monday, she said, was their 42nd anniversary.

Her father, Mancini added, was adept at woodworking, assembling jewelry boxes. And he was a whistler. He recorded compact discs of his whistling and made them available to fellow members of the First Christian Church of Webb City.

“He could whistle any song you could possibly name. It sounded like a flute coming out of his mouth,” Mancini said.

Upon arriving in Webb City, Wells operated a coffee shop. Then about five years ago, he hooked up with Home Depot.

His associates at Home Depot were dedicated to him. Wells family members know the details of Sunday night because Steve Cope, the Joplin Home Depot manager, was determined they not be left without information.

Cope secured Wells’ wallet after the storm on Sunday. Then he drove to the Wells’ Webb City home. There he found Sue, as well as three of Sue’s nieces who had driven over from Girard.

“I wanted his wallet because I didn’t want anybody to lose it,” Cope said Thursday. “And I wanted to make sure that Sue was aware of where he was.”

On Wednesday night, Cope told the family that Wells spent the last few moments before the tornado hit taking customers to safe areas within the store.

“There were people wanting into the store to get away from the storm and he let them in,” Cope said. “He was a wonderful man, always thinking about others.”

A service for Wells is scheduled for 10 a.m. today at First Christian Church of Webb City.

Family members intend to play a recording of Wells whistling “Amazing Grace.”

To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to bburnes@kcstar.com.

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