Charles Nelson Wells, a retired owner of a printing firm and a World War II veteran later honored for his service with a Congressional Gold Medal, died of a blood disorder Feb. 12 at Sinai Hospital. He was 87 and lived in Lochearn.
Born in Baltimore and raised on Schroeder Street, he was the son of Charles Elliott Wells and Anna Nelson Wells. He was a 1944 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School.
As a young man he worked alongside his father as an apprentice at Watkins and Wells printers on West Lexington Street. Family members said the printing firm, founded in 1922, was an early African-American business.
Mr. Wells met his future wife, Margaret Beatrice Sewell, in 1943 when she skated by as he sat on his family's front steps.
"The two courted briefly before Charles was drafted into the Marine Corps," said his niece, Terrye Ashby of Randallstown.
He did basic training at a racially segregated Montford Point, N.C., Marine base in 1944. He was later assigned to Hawaii, where he worked on docks delivering military supplies. He was then assigned to Japan and left the service in 1946.
In a 2011 interview on WYPR, Mr. Wells recalled the Montford Point base as being 5 acres and separated from Camp Lejeune, where white Marine Corps members trained, by 15 miles. He said his segregated base lacked paved roads and the barracks were poorly constructed.
"We were stevedores who wore the Marine Corps uniform," he said of his time in the Pacific. "We were not allowed to fight at all, but after the battles were won, they would let us secure them."
In June 2012, Mr. Wells went to Washington and was among the black Marines to be given a Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor, for their service. According to a Baltimore Sun news story published at that time, a new troop-landing ship was named the USNS Montford Point.
After the war's end, Mr. Wells returned to the family business and worked with his brother and other family members until 1955, when he formed his own business, Wells Printers.
"Charles was a jovial, generous person who extended himself to others," said his nephew, the Rev. Ernest Sewell of Randallstown.
In 1982, Mr. Wells became chief executive officer of the firm, located on Fremont Avenue. He retired in 2000.
In 1947, Mr. Wells joined Mount Zion United Methodist Church. He had been a lay delegate to the Annual Conference, finance chairman, chairman of the administrative board, trustee, member of the male chorale, a member of the United Methodist Men and church historian.
In 1956, when the congregation's pastor died, Mr. Wells worked for several months to keep the congregation growing until a replacement was found.
"Charles had the gift of gab even as a youth as he was the second-place winner of a declamation contest in 1941 at Harvey Johnson Junior High School," said his niece. "It was certain that you never had to guess about how Charles Wells felt about any subject. He always gave his opinion — whether you wanted to hear it or not."
Family members said that Mr. Wells enjoyed tossing one-liners at his close friends. He traveled widely and visited the Caribbean, Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii.
A singer, he entertained friends with his favorite song, "Memories." He also played dominoes and pinochle and read, family members said.
Mr. Wells was a member of the Morning Star Lodge No. 44 of the Prince Hall Masons; a life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; a member of the Forest Park Senior Center; a board member of the Lochearn Improvement Association and the Morgan State University Christian Center; and a member of the Montford Point Marine Association. He was a students' mentor at Hilton and Eutaw-Marshburn elementary schools.
He was a recipient of the NAACP Diamond Jubilee Award and was recognized by the Fullwood Foundation.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Mount Zion United Methodist Church, 3050 Liberty Heights Ave., where he was a member for more than six decades.
Survivors include his wife of more than 65 years; and nieces and nephews.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun