Vernie Wells

Vernie Wells

Vernie Wells
February 28, 1926 – December 16, 2022
Oskaloosa, Iowa | Age 96
Served With Honor ~United States Military Veteran

Vernie Wells, 96, of Oskaloosa, passed away Friday evening, December 16, 2022, at the Mahaska Health Hospice Serenity House in Oskaloosa.

Vernon Gene Wells, the son of John “Joe” Edward and Nora Eva (Silvers) Wells, was born on February 28, 1926, at his parents’ home north of Fremont, Iowa.

Vernie’s early years were difficult for the family because of the drought and depression. His grandfather lost the family farm in 1935, which resulted in a move to a small farm five miles south of Oskaloosa.

Vernie was active in sports but also worked while in Oskaloosa High School. After graduating in 1944, he enlisted in the Army Air Force.

Vernie served as a Staff Sergeant in the 566th Bomber Squadron, 289th Bomber Group. He was stationed in England and participated in the Central European Theater. Vernie served as a Tail Gunner operating two 50-caliber machine guns in the tail turret of a B24 Liberator. He flew seven missions over the English Channel into Germany. He spent the last part of his service in California working at a PX, in addition to his regular army job, allowing him to save $1500.00.

In May 1946, Vernie was offered a share in a drag-line business upon his return from the military. He knew nothing about drag lines but had a down payment for the venture and was ready to learn. In January of the following year, he bought out his partner and became the sole owner of the dragline. His first jobs were in coal mines and on farms, but in the 1950s, because of a machinery update, he moved on to installing water and sewer lines and rebuilding levees. Vernie and his crew dug over 200 basements in Oskaloosa and the surrounding area and laid over one million feet of water mains and sewers from Montrose to Creston and Eldora to Pulaski in over 78 towns in southeast Iowa.

In 1954, Vernie developed his first subdivision on 9th Avenue East; in 1962, he built his first apartment house, an 8-plex on South 2nd Street. In 1965, he built the Penwell Apartments on College Avenue. These ventures were the beginnings of a career change for Vernie. He was the only bidder in 1974 for a 30-unit complex for the elderly. This was the project that put him in the apartment rental business. He needed to sell equipment to help finance the undertaking, but Englenook Apartments were soon a reality, and by 1981, Norwich Apartments were completed. Vernie knew there was a great need for clean, safe, and affordable housing for the elderly of limited means. His investment enabled many to live out their lives in comfort and dignity. In 1992, he developed 27 acres into 51 lots and called the subdivision Golfview Estates. He remained in the apartment rental business until 2015. His vision’s scope centered on helping individuals, but it grew to include the betterment of Oskaloosa.

Because of his success in the apartment business, Vernie supported the YMCA generously, the Senior Citizen’s Center, Penn Central Mall, William Penn University, Mahaska Health and the Hospice Serenity House, the Oskaloosa HS Buildings Trades program, and Old White Cemetery.

While in high school, Vernie worked at the Ford Garage; it was there he became acquainted with Bill Jones. He later met Evelyn Jones, Bill’s daughter, at the dance club El Shapo (admittance fee 11 cents), and they enjoyed dancing together. After the 1943 Homecoming Parade, Vernie became more acquainted with Shirley Jones, Bill’s daughter, and Evelyn’s younger sister. Vernie escorted her home that night, which started a beautiful relationship. After a chance meeting, resulting in a hilarious ice-skating venture at Forest Cemetery in early 1944, Vernie again escorted Shirley home. It was during this encounter they decided that they liked each other. They were only to have one formal date before Vernie was inducted into the military. Still, he enjoyed several weekends on leave at the Jones home, pampered by Shirley’s mother and older sisters.

Not until Shirley finished high school and Vernie had worked for a year after returning home from the service did Vernie and Shirley finally tie the knot on August 17, 1947, in Oskaloosa. Together they raised three daughters. He and Shirley enjoyed wintering in Arizona for 33 years; bird watching, meeting new people, playing Bridge, and the reprieve from Iowa’s cold drew them to the area.

Vernie first credited his wife for his accomplishments; he also credited his bankers, lawyers, insurance agents, accountants, bookkeepers, and especially his workers for the faith and support they showed him.

He was a member of St. James Episcopal Church, the American Legion, the Elks, the Oskaloosa Rotary Club, and Trees Forever. He enjoyed playing Bridge, bird watching, planting trees, and of course, working.

His family includes three daughters: Kristine Wells (& John Waters) of Des Moines, Mary (& Stephen) Moore of St. Louise, MO, and Leslie “Dede” Horn of Oskaloosa; his six grandchildren include: Nathan Groenendyk of Hyattsville, MD, Katherine A. Groenendyk Spilo of Los Angeles, CA, Daniel Cooper Moore of South Orange, NJ, Andrew Moore of St. Louise, MO, Katherine Horn of Ottumwa, and James P. Horn of Oskaloosa; and four great-grandchildren.

In addition to his parents, Vernie was preceded in death by his wife, Shirley, in 2020; a sister, Velma June Adams, three sisters-in-law: Eileen Suiter, Johnita Jones, and Evelyn Zach; and two brothers-in-law: Bill and Bob Jones.

Funeral Services for Vernie will be held 11 a.m., Friday, December 30, 2022, at St. James Episcopal Church, with Reverend Kevin Enge officiating.
The Oskaloosa Honor Guard will present military honors.
Cremation will follow the service, and his ashes will be buried in Old White Cemetery.
Visitation will begin at 11 a.m., Thursday, at Langkamp Funeral Chapel; the family will greet visitors from 3-6 p.m.
Vernie loved his community, in lieu of sending flowers, please honor him by making a memorial contribution to the Mahaska Health Foundation for the Hospice Serenity House or the 52577 Scholarship Fund.

Posted by on Dec 18 2022. Filed under Obituaries. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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