"From the beginning I fell in love with Indiana University," wrote Herman B Wells of his time as an undergraduate. "It was a simple place in those days, with not yet three thousand students, but it had great charm and appeal for me." The much loved and lauded Herman B Wells dedicated his life to Indiana University, serving as its president for 25 years and as its university chancellor for another 37 years.
Herman B Wells was born in Jamestown, Indiana, in 1902, the son of a banker and a former teacher. The family moved to Lebanon, Indiana, where Wells graduated from high school and worked for his father’s bank. After attending the University of Illinois, he transferred to Indiana University in 1922.
In 1924 Wells earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from IU, followed by a Master of Arts degree in economics in 1927. In 1930, Wells accepted his first position at IU, as an associate instructorship in economics; he was promoted three years later to assistant professor. While teaching, Wells worked with professional associations and governmental agencies to supervise and strengthen the state’s banks and improve laws governing Indiana’s financial institutions.
In 1935, Wells accepted the job of dean of the IU School of Business. In 1937 he was offered the position of acting president of the university, succeeding the retiring William Lowe Bryan. After a year he agreed to become IU’s 12th president – the institution was 112 years old, and Wells was thirty-six.
During his presidency, which ended in 1962, IU grew in many ways: student enrollment increased from 11,000 to 31,000; the faculty grew in number, scope, and breadth; new degree programs were created; and many of the campus’s major buildings were constructed, including 1941’s IU Auditorium and Theatre Building. The campus gained international recognition for its scholarship, research, and libraries. The driving force behind this transformation was Herman B Wells.
During his career at Indiana University, Wells received numerous awards, honorary degrees, and national and international recognition. After his retirement from the presidency, he became university chancellor and continued his vital, tireless work for the university. He was still working in that capacity when he died in Bloomington in 2000 at the age of 97.
Among his many accomplishments, Herman B Wells established an outstanding arts presence at Indiana University. In addition to his official contribution to arts curricula and programming, he was a faithful audience member and patron of theatre, music, dance, and fine arts events. The Wells-Metz Theatre is a fitting memorial to the life, work, and spirit of Chancellor Wells.