Ensuring the Beat
They’ve seen how WCU’s music program changes lives.
With their gift, they’re letting the rest of the country know, too.
Following the rhythm
For the Wells brothers, it all started with music education. The siblings both majored in the subject at West Chester University, with Dr. James R. Wells graduating in 1954, and his brother Richard G. Wells following suit four years afterward. 60 years later in 2018, they returned together to bestow that same school of music with their name — and the largest gift in the University’s history.
As WCU graduates, the brothers leveraged their experiences to spur successful careers. James returned to the University as the Director of Bands and a music professor, founding the WCU Marching Band and Band Front Conference in 1970. An early pioneer in the music festival arena, he helped revolutionize the use of corps style marching techniques.
Richard took his talents to the Kutztown Area and Owen J. Roberts school systems before joining Kutztown University as an associate professor in the department of music. There, he directed the marching, concert, and jazz bands, as well as the instrumental ensembles. In 1968, Richard established the university’s first jazz program.
While working at separate universities, the brothers often collaborated to further music education. In 1982, they established Festivals of Music, a groundbreaking conference that brings together school performing ensembles with leading conductors. To help facilitate the travel logistics, they founded World Travel Inc. — a company that evolved to specialize in corporate travel, becoming the fourth largest independent travel company in the country.
Even as their accomplishments grew, the brothers never lost sight of their drive to advance music education. As much joy as they derived from teaching and performing — Jim still directs a church choir, and Richard directs the Kutztown University alumni jazz band — they sought to give back for future generations to enjoy as well. “Whether it is performing, listening, or attending concerts,” Richard says, “music is still the driving passion in my life.”
James R. Wells ’54 and Richard G. Wells ’58
Donors of a record-breaking $3 million gift to the Wells School of Music
“We have one of the best music education schools in the country. Donations help the school continue to bring proficient musicians here — and to let the rest of the nation know about West Chester University.” – James Wells
“Donations allow music to continue — not only at the University, but in our schools, communities, and across society,” says Richard.
Let the music play
Throughout their careers, James and Richard pursued their vision by contributing to the West Chester University Foundation. Along with their wives, who happen to be sisters — Joanne M. Wells ’55 and Elizabeth J. Wells ’60, respectively — they have regularly supported the School of Music and the Purple & Gold Fund. They also contribute to the James Wells Marching Band Endowment, which James established in 1996 to support top marching band students.
In 2018, the brothers made history with a $3 million gift — the largest in WCU’s history. Along with bestowing the Wells School of Music with their name, the endowment helps fund scholarships, travel for music ensembles, state-of-the-art marching band equipment, and music education programming in perpetuity.
“Donations allow music to continue — not only at the university, but in our schools, communities, and across society,” Richard says. “Providing financial aid to students in this era of great financials demands is a must to keep music alive.”
Attracting top talent
Over the years, the Wells brothers’ legacy has helped bring national recognition to the University’s musical program. The Incomparable Golden Rams Marching Band has been featured at Philadelphia Phillies World Series appearances, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade, and at Bands of America Marching Championships. In October 2019, the band received the Sudler Trophy — known as the Heisman Trophy of the collegiate band world.
For James and Robert, the accolades represent more than bragging rights. Their hope is that the attention will draw more top-tier musicians and leaders, bolstering the University’s future — and student success.
“To promote music and music education, West Chester University School of Music must continue to attract the most talented candidates, offer much-needed scholarships, and secure national recognition as a preeminent music education school,” James says. “It is our intent to foster these ideals, and strengthen the school as a fertile training ground for the persevering musicians of today and tomorrow.”