Wells-wishers celebrate principal
Mike Wells may be the youngest senior citizen in history. For weeks, the Glenwood Springs High School principal has joked about his age and eating dinner at 4:30 p.m. – often at events held in his honor. Over the past month, Wells’ has attended a mysterious Glenwood Springs City Council meeting in which the city proclaimed “Mike Wells Day,” and an afternoon reception in the commons area of Glenwood Springs High School. On Saturday he’ll don one of his trademark ties for a dinner in his honor at the Hotel Colorado.”It feels like a funeral, but I’m not dying,” said Wells, Glenwood Springs High School principal. Wells isn’t dying, but he is retiring after 25 years at Glenwood Springs High School. “I don’t want anyone to think I’m ungrateful,” he said of all the recent attention, “but I’m ready to be done retiring, because emotionally, I’m right on the edge all the time.”Wells spoke as he sat in his office at GSHS, where in 1981, then-principal Bill Reader started the Chicago native’s interview for assistant principal by asking, “Chicago, huh? Cubs or White Sox?””Cubs,” answered Wells.
Wells’ devotion to the Cubs has since become legendary in Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork School District. Cubs memorabilia covers one wall of the office today, but even his Cubs devotion is upstaged by his devotion to GSHS. The office – like his closet at home, he said – is awash in red.He’s got vintage GSHS beanies, signed basketballs, and a curious collection of Mason jars behind his desk. The jars are filled with gifts that the past 10 or so senior classes have handed him as they walked across the stage at graduation.During construction in 1996, each student handed him a nail. In 1997, each handed him a piece of a senior-class jigsaw puzzle. And in 1998 each handed him a blank key following a year the school underwent frequent “re-keyings.”For all the memorabilia in Wells’ office, he didn’t seem to spend much time there during his principalship. Wells was more often in the halls, at games, judging DECA, or watching the mock trial team compete in Orlando, Fla. On Wednesday, Wells took a short walk around the school. The few students who remained on the school’s last day shouted well wishes as he passed. “Goodbye Mr. Wells, I’ll miss you,” said one, slouched against the front doors of the school. “It’s not like I’ve lost my passion for what I’m doing,” he explained. But there is a time when its good to move on – for both him and the school, he said. As an example, he talked about prom weekend. That Saturday he woke up early, had breakfast in the GSHS multi-purpose room, worked a track meet, had lunch in the multi-purpose room, worked the track meet some more, changed into a suit, chaperoneed prom, worked after-prom, then had a late dinner, again, in the multi-purpose room. “There comes a time in your life when you go, ‘Somebody else has to have this pleasure,'” he said.
Then there’s the idea that one should, “close leaving your audience wanting more,” he said. By all accounts Wells will do just that. “He’s done an awesome job with Glenwood Springs High School,” said assistant superintendent Judy Haptonstall. “He certainly is a very visionary person.””The thing he’s done for me and I think for most of us here is he’s allowed us to teach … I’m going to miss him,” said Mike Wilde, a GSHS science teacher since 1982.But Wells’ legacy won’t be what he’s done for the school in the last 25 years. His legacy will be what happens to the school after he’s gone, he said. After all, Wells has hired all but five of the more than 50 staff members at the school and presided over the school’s 700 students for the past four years, and over as many as 15,000 kids since he began.Wells is confident in his replacement, assistant principal Paul Freeman, to take the school in directions he never dreamed of, he said.But for all the emotion surrounding his retirement, Wells still managed to tell one of his many jokes Wednesday. He told a “true story” about an elementary school kid who was at recess playing with dog poop. The teacher’s aide asked the boy what he was making.
“A teacher’s aide,” said the boy. Furious and insulted, the teacher’s aide went and got a teacher. The teacher came out and asked the boy what he was making. “A teacher,” said the boy. Furious and insulted, the teacher got the principal. The principal asked what the boy was making. “A teacher,” said the boy. The principal, confused, asked, “Why didn’t you say principal?””Well, there’s not enough dog poop,” said the boy. Joking seems to be one of the keys to Wells’ extraordinary success. “I try and keep a sense of perspective by seeing the humor in things,” he said.”
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No sooner had Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon reopened Saturday afternoon than it was closed again at 3:30 p.m. due to the flash flood warning.