Elaine J. Wells

LEWISTON – Elaine J. Wells, 96, died peacefully on Saturday, May 4, 2019, at Russell Park Manor, where she had been a resident for five years.

Born in East Harlem in New York City, a third generation New Yorker and the oldest of the three children of Jennie and Joseph Nester, she grew up in Teaneck, N.J., where she graduated from high school at 16. In 1943 she graduated from the New Jersey College for Women, now Douglass College of Rutgers University, with a major in music and a minor in Italian. In her sophomore year she wrote “Soon I will be old and time will have been long and I will have many memories.” And many she had.

In October 1943, she married her Rutgers classmate, James M. Wells, on the day after his commission in the U.S. Navy. When he was shipped to California, she took the train west and lived on her own in San Francisco with other “war wives” while working in a bank. And when he was moved to the Caribbean, she moved back to New York, to work in a bank there, living on her own in an apartment on West 87th. She took pride in her independent life in a New York brownstone and treasured her memories of the city: VJ day, the day of FDR’s death, and making angels in the snow in Central Park the night before her first child was born, and when Jim was in town, their meals at clubs like Billy Cook’s and at The Oasis on 23rd Street.

An organist herself, she went to the weekly noon concerts at Trinity Church Wall Street, eating her lunch sitting on the grave of Alexander Hamilton. After the war, they moved to New Jersey, to Metuchen, near family and their college, where they raised their three children, Rebecca, James Jr., and Christopher. Music remained at the center of their lives as they sang in church choirs, the Metuchen Choral Group, and the Rutgers University Choir, which performed up and down the east coast with major symphonies. Active in the Unitarian Church in Plainfield, N.J., they tutored Plainfield students with the NAACP. They spent their summer weekends sailing sloops on Raritan Bay and up the East River to Long Island Sound as far as the Cape, at least once a year, and their winters attending performances of operas and Broadway shows in New York.

Jim worked in the city for AT&T as a computer specialist for decades on Varick Street and at 195 Broadway and eventually in New Jersey with Bell Labs. In later years, Elaine worked as an admissions counselor at Douglass College, before they both took early retirement and at 55, moved to Maine, to Washington County, where they had begun spending vacations first at Roque Bluffs and then at North Perry, where they bought a camp and then an early nineteenth century cape on Boyden Lake. They remained there for 21 years, where Jim tutored for Literacy Volunteers and they sang with the university choir at Machias, sailing their 33-foot sloop on Passamaquoddy Bay until Jim’s health began to decline.

When it was clear that they needed to “move south” they relocated to Lewiston, and became regular attendees at concerts and lectures. When Jim died in early 2000, Elaine began her solo life living with her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. In her first years with them she could be seen taking long walks about the Bates College area, and she regularly met up with students from Pettingill Elementary School to cross Russell Street for noon concerts at Olin Concert Hall. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2008, she soldiered on, attending concerts when she could, especially performances of the choral music of Mozart, Handel, and Brahms she had sung herself, and travelling with family as far as New York City. Following a broken leg and increasing dementia, she moved to Russell Park Manor in spring 2014.

Predeceased by Jim Wells; her brother, David Nester; and her parents.

She is survived by her three children, Rebecca Corrie and her husband, John of Lewiston, her sons, James M. Wells Jr. and his wife, Gretchen of Norwood, Colo. and Chris Wells and his wife, Tracy of Port Clyde and Bokeelia, Fla.; her grandsons, Jon Wells and his wife, Courtney of Long Beach, Calif. and their children, Kieran and Teagen, and Adam Wells and his wife, Leslie and their daughter, Natalia of San Diego, Calif.; and her granddaughters, Mary Wells Miller and her husband, Paul of Las Vegas and their children, Wyatt and Felicity, and Karen Corrie and her husband, Andrew Cheung of Brooklyn, N.Y. and their son, Samuel Corrie-Cheung; and her beloved sister, Florence Bosley of Henrico, Va. and her family; and her nephew and several nieces and their families.

The family is immensely grateful to the wonderful staff of Russell Park Manor of Lewiston for their years of devoted and generous care. We will miss our time with them.

A family gathering will be held at a later date.

Donations in her memory can be made to Literacy Volunteers of Maine.

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