Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

CNHI News Service Originals

June 2, 2011

Tornado hero died helping others survive

JOPLIN, Mo. — Dean Wells exemplified the definition of a “people person,” said his wife, Sue. He enjoyed meeting, greeting and helping others.

“That’s why he liked working at Home Depot — the customers and the new faces,” she said.

M. "Dean" Wells, 59, head of the electrical department at Joplin's Home Depot, died helping others survive in the May 22 tornado that demolished the big box store.

Witnesses said Wells guided co-workers and customers to the safest places inside the store, but was killed when a wall collapsed on top of him while searching about for others to help.

Seven people died inside Home Depot when the EF-5 tornado, with winds ranging beyond 200 mph, tore the building apart. Several people survived.

Steve Cope, store manager, said Wells was “almost like a father figure” at Home Depot, particularly to his younger co-workers.

“He was a great guy, always put others in front of himself,” said Cope.

Sue and Dean Wells were married for 42 years. She said stories about her husband’s compassion have been flooding in since notice of his death.

“I had a customer call me the other day,” she said. “She just wanted to tell me that she was in the store a while back, and her daughter was handicapped, and my husband bent over backward to help them.”

Wells worked at Home Depot for four years. Before that he spent 10 years with the Army. He was a native of Colorado, and loved hunting and fishing, according to his family.

Daughter DeAnna Mancini of Tucson, Arz., described her father as a patriot, who loved flying the American flag and thanking the military men and women for their service to country.

“When you want to talk about what an American should be, he was definitely an American,” she said. "He died a hero, but that was my father. He was always helping everybody.”

Wells is survived by his wife; two daughters; his mother; four grandchildren; and a 4-month-old great-grandson he had yet to meet.

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Emily Younker is a reporter for the Joplin, Mo., Globe. Contact her at eyounker@joplinglobe.com.

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