Ralph Wells 

By Jennifer Drendel (MC, '08) 

 Farmer, businessman, and politician—normally occupations not often seen together—yet Ralph Wells filled all of these roles throughout his life. The contributions he made to the city of Monmouth impacted the way of life and its history. As a man of rural roots, Wells managed to change the face of agriculture in this farming community, expand business for local farmers, and make a better city for Monmouth citizens. In order to understand Ralph Wells, one must look at the farmer, the businessman, and the politician and see how these roles acted both individually and collectively to comprise the man he was.

Ralph Wells was born November 15, 1889, to Daniel and Martha Ann (Foster) Wells near Wenona, Illinois, in Marshall County. Wells was one of four children—a brother, Murray, and two sisters, Della and Verda.[1] As a teenager, he delivered newspapers to earn some extra cash, but the bag rubbed against his leg, causing an infection. The doctor operated to cure the infection, but left the cast on too long, causing his leg to not grow as long as the other; therefore, he limped for the remainder of his life.[2] Wells attended the University of Illinois, where he specialized in soils and livestock, and, after graduating in 1912, he taught a class on soils at a western university. When Wells returned to Wenona, he became active in the local agriculture and served as a Farmer’s Institute lecturer and the president of the Grange in Marshall County, while also keeping a job as a local telephone company manager.[3] Despite his original intentions, Wells would leave Wenona in 1918 only six years after graduating from the University of Illinois.

As Monmouth’s agriculture continued to grow, local farmers supported the creation of an agricultural organization, the Warren County Farmers Association. Although complications with the state during the organization of the program caused it to fail, efforts were continued to create a local Farm Bureau chapter, then to name a farm adviser.[4] With Well’s credentials and knowledge of agriculture, Farm Bureau president Earl Bruington believed Wells was exactly what the Farm Bureau needed to get the organization running in April of 1918.[5]

On July 1, 1918, Ralph Wells was welcomed to Monmouth with a banquet hosted by the Farm Bureau on his behalf. Wells proved to be just what the organization needed, Ralph Eckley said of his success, “When he began, there were 416 members. Two years later, in 1920, the membership had soared to 1,207.”[6] Wells was a strong believer in the relationship between agriculture and the economy and worked with area farmers to expand agriculture. Wells’ cooperation with local farmers would help increase the food production for the remainder of World War I. Wells left his position as farm adviser in 1922.

With the end of the war came hard times for farmers financially as the surplus production from the war caused prices to drop. In 1919 under the Farm Credit Act, Wells helped organize the Warren County Farm Loan Association, which would be later known as the Federal Land Bank Association of Monmouth.[7] He became secretary of the loan association and held this position until 1934. With the Great Depression came more financial problems for farmers who lacked the credit necessary to run their farms. In order to solve this problem, in 1933,Wells helped organize the Monmouth Production Credit Association to help farmers in Warren, Henderson, Mercer, and Rock Island counties. For two terms, Wells served as secretary of the Monmouth Production Credit Association until he was succeeded by John Kruidenier in 1938.[8]

Wells arrived in Monmouth as a bachelor and resided at the YMCA, and he was often seen playing pool in the evening at the Grand.[9] On June 30, 1920, Wells gave up his bachelor life to marry fellow University of Illinois graduate, Winifred Supple, in Deerfield, Illinois. Winifred Supple Wells was born June 16, 1890, to Richard and Gertrude (Congdon) Supple in Crescent City, Illinois. Winifred Wells spent most of her early life in Chicago and after graduating from the University of Illinois she taught at Inglewood and Springfield high school.[10] After their marriage, the Wells returned to Monmouth. The eldest son Ralph Richard Wells was born on April 19, 1921, in Monmouth.[11] He was followed by twins, Norman Dwight and Willis Harding Wells, on February 1, 1923, and their fourth son, Adrian Ray Wells, on July 17, 1925.[12] Finally, their daughter, Dorothy Rea Wells, was born on September 4, 1935.[13] The children were all baptized at the First United Methodist Church. Shortly before the birth of their fourth son, using a capital of $500, Wells created the Ralph Wells and Company by buying a small grain elevator on South Third Street, and began a grain milling business. A few years later, he would purchase a soybean plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, and using those profits he would begin a soybean plant for the production of soybean oil and meal in Monmouth.

Wells began his career in public office in 1929 when he was elected alderman of the Second ward, ousting the incumbent Alderman Johnston with a vote of 436 to 398.[14] Wells served as alderman under Mayor C. C. Merillat, taking office on May 6. For his first year in office, Wells served on the auditing, fire, and water committees while also acting as the chairman of the insurance committee.[15] In July of 1929, there was a suggestion to pave East Broadway; however, Wells along with some others, voted against the ordinance, causing it to fail.[16] As chairman of the insurance committee, Wells suggested that extra insurance be purchased in November to protect the pumping station.[17] In January 1930, Ordinance #1 was passed changing the organization of ordinances by stating that all ordinances from now on would be numbered.[18] For Well’s second term in office, he would serve on the finance, insurance committees and as chairman of the water committee.[19] When Mayor Merillat announced he would be absent for several weeks, it was suggested by Alderman Park that Wells serve as mayor pro tem; the suggestion passed unanimously.[20] Wells acted as mayor pro tem from July 21 until August 18. Once Merillat returned on the 18, Wells returned to his position as Alderman and presented the matter of owing J. H. Hanley $875 in commissioner’s fees for East Broadway from 1928. Despite his urging that it be paid, the auditing committee was against paying the bill and the movement failed.[21] At the September 1 meeting of the council, Wells proposed that action be taken to complete the change of the water works from man labor to electric power; however, no action was taken.[22] At the next council meeting, Mayor Merillat asked the committee chairmen to keep expenses at the absolute minimum due to a shortage of funds. The Mayor also presented the expenditures of the water department (which Wells served as the chairman of the water committee) and was disappointed in the increase compared with last year.[23] Beginning in August, samples of the wells in Monmouth were sent to Springfield to be tested. In both November, December, and February, favorable reports were received from the Department of Health on the conditions of wells number one and two, stating that the water was safe for drinking and met the standards of the United States Public Health Service.[24] On May 4, 1930, Wells retired from his position of alderman and was replaced by R. J. Barnes; also Mayor Merillat was replaced by Earl McKinnon.[25]

Wells suffered a loss of $15,000 on June 13, 1944, when soybean meal started on fire at his plant and it spread to the roof of the building. Firemen responded quickly and were able to save both the big elevator and a large tank of soybean oil; however, heavy damage was suffered on the third floor of the mill where equipment was badly damaged along with many of the lower floors. After the fire was under control, Wells stated that the damage was fully covered by insurance, and if the equipment could be repaired the mill would be running again in two months, regardless, Wells intended on having the current beans processed in time to have room for the new crop at harvest time.[26] In 1946, Vitality Mills dog food plant was opened in Monmouth to supply jobs for men returning from the war. Ralph Wells and Company became the plant’s main supplier of soybeans for the production of dog food. When Wells’ sons returned home from the service in 1948, they joined him in running the family business and a corn flake plant was created on South Third Street.[27] The corn flake factory was to add to Ralph Wells and Company’s production of feed since corn flakes was a major ingredient in not only breakfast foods, but also feeds. Although the principal production of the plant was corn flakes, it also made substantial quantities of wheat and bran flakes. The plant employed somewhere between six to nine additional men plus foremen and production was somewhere around fifteen to eighteen tons of feed ingredients daily. Similar to the soybean plant which uses the bulk of soybeans grown in the Monmouth area, the corn flake plant used local farm products in its production.[28] Also in 1948, Wells built an 185,000 bushel grain elevator, which was also the tallest structure in Monmouth.

In February of 1949, Ralph Wells announced he would be a candidate for mayor with the Union party. Fellow union party candidates included Algot Bowman (2nd ward), Victor Engdahl (4th ward), Joe Hamilton (5th ward). Although few paid attention to the actual candidates for the 1949 election, especially since Wells ran unopposed for Mayor, many were interested in the issue of whether Monmouth would remain wet or become dry. The campaign ad for the union party read as follows: 

    “In the interest of a sound, efficient, economical city administration the Committee for Civic Betterment is now being formed. You are cordially invited to join our ranks. By doing so you are not taking a stand on the “Wet” or “Dry” issue as these candidates do not represent any special interest group. You are simply taking a stand for good government and civic betterment.”[29]  

In order to gain more support, the union party tried to take a neutral stance on the issue of prohibition. After the April election, it was announced that Ralph Wells had won the position as mayor with 3,559 votes to write-in G. E. Pedigo’s 19. Despite the lack of interest in the candidates, voters flocked to the polls to vote for the issue of wet or dry. Monmouth voted to stay dry, but only by the narrow margin of 119 votes, making it the closest election since the repeal of the prohibition. The issue of wet or dry was not limited to Monmouth, as towns all over the state and country debated over the sale of liquor. However, in Monmouth precincts Second, Third, Fourth Fifth, Sixth, and Ninth voted to be dry whereas the First, Seventh, Eight, and Tenth precincts voted to remain wet. [30]

Wells was sworn into office on April 28, by former Mayor Guy Pearson. After being sworn into office, Mayor Wells stated, “he was returning his salary to the City so that he could call on other busy men for non-paying city jobs,” and he announced his interest in sprucing up the town, repairing roads, beautifying the city, and getting water to the remainder of town.[31] Shortly after his initiation, Mayor Wells was expected to deal with a problem affecting not only Monmouth, but the entire nation. In July, the health department recommended certain precautions to help prevent the spread of polio: eliminate fly breeding around garbage using DDT, swimming pools should be closed and no swimming in creeks, ponds or other bodies of water, only emergency tonsil operations, children should avoid crowds, and close schools if necessary.[32] At the August 1st, council meeting secretary of the chamber of commerce Robert Albert recommended cleaning up the city to prevent an outbreak in Monmouth and the suggestion was passed on to the health committee.[33] By August 2nd, 411 people had reported cases of polio in Illinois, twenty-two had died, and thirty-six counties were still polio free.[34] Although there have been no outbreaks in Monmouth, Mayor Wells claimed “that it seemed that the time to attempt to prevent a serious outbreak of polio in the city was at hand and he informed the various organization representatives that all city aid would be given in any campaign which may be taken.”[35] By August 15th, Alderman Kettering reported to the council that most places had been sprayed to prevent polio; however, he suggested that the 2nd Prime Beef festival may need to be cancelled as a precaution.[36] Cases of polio did eventually reach Warren county, yet the precautions taken by the city council prevented a major outbreak in Monmouth.

Due to the complaints of citizens, the Monmouth police force, led by Chief Vincent Romano, decided to crack down on speeders in Monmouth in August.[37] The city council would support the police force ten months later by conducting a survey of the roads and the average speed of drivers. Mr. Litvien , a state engineer, was asked by Mayor Wells to come conduct the study in late May, and based on his survey, he suggested raising the speed limits to what drivers were actually doing, but having a stricter enforcement of the new speed limits.[38] Along with the new speed limits, the city suggested posting signs warning that the city was being monitored as well as purchasing speed check equipment. The state highway department asked the city to reconsider this movement, because the state was going to post its own speed zone ahead signs, and recommended that the city create a five year street improvement plan by July 1.[39] The street improvement plan was just one way that Monmouth began to spruce up the town. There were also movements by the city council to lay new sewers, repave streets, and add street lighting in more parts of town.[40] Another suggestion was to get more modern garbage cans around town and to have local businesses sponsor the garbage cans by advertising on them for $25.[41]

The city council was faced with a dilemma on September 19th when street department members decided to strike after being denied a pay raise the night before at the city meeting. The pay raise that the street department sought would affect men also working in the water, police and fire departments, yet, due to the absence of aldermen at the council meeting, it was moved to wait until everyone was present to discuss the issue of a pay raise. Although there were currently insufficient funds available for a pay raise, Mayor Wells suggested that the $1,000 a month from the water rate increase be used to give these men a ten percent increase in pay instead of going towards the new fire truck as proposed. He suggested that the fire truck be paid for by the issuing of bonds. The members of the street department agreed to go back to work after Wells promised there would be a special meeting of city council that evening.[42] It was then decided at the special meeting that pay be increased ten percent for monthly employees and that hourly wages be raised to $1.00.[43] The issue of the fire truck was further discussed at the December meeting where it was proposed that a tax increase be used to purchase a truck at $31,000 from the LaFrance Company. The tax increase would be voted on by residents in the April election.[44]

With the cold war and war in Korea, Congress created the Civilian Defense Bill which would “organize the American people to meet possible enemy attack and grant the federal government the virtual dictatorial powers it might need in any area that does come underattack.”[45] Monmouth followed the Civilian Defense Bill by creating their own Civilian defense group in cooperation with state and national authorities comprised of members from various organizations around town. The defense group was led by Dell Hardin and groups such as the Warren County chapter of the American National Red Cross agreed to help out in any way possible. The defense group devised a city plan of defense, and took it to Chicago, where it was approved by the director of state defense, who suggested that it be used as a model for other cities the size of Monmouth.[46]

When Mayor Wells left town for an operation at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, it was suggested that Alderman DeBok be chosen as mayor pro tem. Before Wells left, he strongly suggested that the council spend money wisely as many funds were getting overdrawn and there were still four months left to the fiscal year. Despite the tight funds, Wells believed that the council could pull through without a deficit as long as they were sensible with their spending. [47] Wells returned from Minnesota to city council on February 5 and thanked the council for the flowers and cards he had received during his operation.[48] Also, it was announced that DeBok would continue serving as mayor pro tem since Wells planned to recover from his operation in Florida.[49] At this meeting, a price stabilization committee was formed to ensure the financial well being for the remainder of the year. Remaining issues were to be decided on after Wells returned.

Beginning in December of 1950, a campaign was made to make traffic safety better around schools. Children attending the Garfield school often had to wait as long as fifteen minutes to cross Main Street, and it was suggested that stop signs be placed at Main and Euclid, South Main and 9th and W. Broadway during school hours to allow children to cross safely.[50] It was later suggested in January of 1951 by Aldermen Harding that a stop sign be placed at East 9th and South 3rd.[51] Once Wells had returned, he proposed that speed checkers be placed around town to decrease the likelihood of speeding, as well as posting signs stating that pedestrians have the right a way. In May, state engineer Mr. Litvien returned to Monmouth to report on the lowering of speed limits near schools and West Broadway.

He believed that the 35 mph speed limit on Broadway should begin past Willits school, that right turns should be permitted on the red stoplights, that the timing of the stoplights be changed to allow more time for pedestrians to cross and to better warn drivers, and finally that stop signs should be placed at the Willits school during school hours.[52] The reduction of speeding and protection of children was further carried out by the purchasing of a motorcycle for the police force in June. It was believed by both the city council and police force that a motorcycle would be beneficial to the enforcement of speed limits; however, only one or two of the officers would actually be allowed to use the bike. Finally, the city council decided that pedestrians should also be held accountable for their actions and it became illegal to jaywalk or cross roads at improper places. [53]

The April election decided the issue of the fire truck and also marked the midpoint of Mayor Wells’ term. The citizens of Monmouth voted for the increase of the tax rate by a vote of 515-171. The money generated from the increase would then go to purchasing a new fire truck from the LaFrance Company for $31,000. The new truck would be useful for buildings up to five stories tall. Mayor Wells also took the time to comment on what the council had managed to achieve during his first two years in office. As he stated at the May 7 meeting of city council: 

“Midway in this four year term as mayor of your city, it seems properly in order, to make not only an annual repot to the council but a biennial review of the work and progress of this administration as well. This administration was elected in 1949 with some very definite objects in views, conveyed in pre-election pledges to the voting public.

First among these promises was a program for betterment of the City streets. Under the first superintendent, Mr. Shugart made real progress in this department. More streets were oiled, a new grader was installed and the dirt streets were built and drained especially in the Southeast and Northwest parts of the city. Tanks and distributing equipment for oiling was secured so that this improvement could proceed without additional costs, the savings coming from the fact that the street crew could do much of their oiling at the proper times without being dependent upon outside contractors.

Additions of several streets particularly three blocks on North Tenth were added to the Arterial system and improved with permanent type curb and gutter pavements. The parking area at the hospital was paved, South Eleventh Street was finished and plans accepted by the state for permanent improvement of all of east Eleventh avenue. A street flusher was obtained thru co-operation of the Chamber of Commerce and is in use in periodic flushing of the downtown area. Machine sweeping of paved streets was resumed again and the central park improved and beautified with the help of the Garden Club. The street department also cleaned and graded the various parks and their development for further recreation has made no little progress. The resignation of the Superintendent last summer was a severe handicap and the work has unfortunately suffered accordingly as the place has not been officially filled since. The past winter was extremely severe on all types of street surfaces including brick and cement and even yet their proper repairs have not all been completed. The department is much better equipped mechanically then ever before with two graders, oil distributing and storage, a cinder and gravel spreader all having been added. There is still need of replacement of one truck, new mowing equipment and perhaps a street broom to supplement the old sweeper should be added.

In the public utilities department, the telephone problem seems to be well along the way of solution. Better service is being given, and although not yet fully up to the standards some users wish, promises further great improvement by the prospect of a dial system in the not too distant future. In addition the city is also being paid some $4500 per year for the use of its streets and alleys by the telephone company. The Illinois Power Company is taking over a part of the City’s Archer Avenue circuit operation and negotiations are in progress with the help of the Association of Commerce for eventual replacement of all the downtown lighting with modern equipment.

The promised abatement of the bad drainage situation in the southeast quarter of the city has been accomplished by completion of some 1200 feet of permanent drainage sewer. More work should be done this year and next on the north side of the Railroads to minimize the flood menace in the east part of Monmouth. Estimates have been made on this work and will be presented to the council when it appears that it can be financed from current receipts without special taxation.

The police department, under Chief Romano has been quietly efficient and today is one of the best dressed and trained forces in this state in cities of our size.

The fire department, although losing the experienced guidance of Chief Smiley last year, is also making progress in both men and equipment. The addition of the new LaFance equipment will further modernize this department and greatly increase its efficiency under the capable guidance of Chief Watson. The water department has not been without considerable improvement as well with laying of over a mile of new mains, installation of a completely new submersible type of pump and rejuvenation of the stand tower. The same might be said of the sewage disposal plant where some additional building has been approved and already begun. During the past two years the City Hall has also been almost entirely repaired and repainted, inside and out extensive improvements made in the clerk’s office.

The hospital under the guidance of the expanded five man board has made extensive improvements in equipment and management. Although it still continues to be a serious financial problem, the level of service to both the medical profession and the ailing public, has been elevated and modernized by addition of expensive but much needed equipment and personnel.

During the past year the cemetery has also undergone considerable changing for the better. A new garden type of addition has been added on the east side, roads have been built up and more care given to landscaping and care of the old cemeteries. Further space has been made available; also the Glendale addition and under Superintendent Carson we can well expect this municipal owned pieced of property to become a pleasurable and satisfying beauty spot with which the city may point with pride of proprietorship.

The license situation shows little change, the same number of liquor licenses being granted as last year. For the most part liquor license holders have made a serious effort to comply with the law and as a result very little difficulty has arisen for the liquor commission to handle.

I would like to say that these promises have been kept and made without spending extra money but this unfortunately is not the case. While taxes have not been raised appreciably these services have shown that they do cost extra cash when we examine the reports of expenditures and the new appropriation ordinances. Appropriations asked for next year will also be found to total some more than last year and the year just past exceeded in expense the previous year by about $30,000 in expenses. These may be accounted for by the following items, new sewer $3000, emergency repairs at the water tower $10,000, emergency fire engine repairs $2000, additional development at the cemetery $3000 and increase in city payroll $4000. Additional funds were available to the general corporate fund however from following sources, the parking meters having been paid for turn in a net of some $15,000, the telephone income $4800, and a slightly increased tax assessment base could account for another $2000. The fire equipment tax of 3/100 cents will slightly more than offset the reduction made last year by omitting the assessment of the City Hall bonds as there is sufficient funds in reserve to pay off these bonds as they fall due during the next two years. The City of Monmouth has a remarkably low funded indebtedness as well as a low current indebtedness, and it is your mayor’s determination to keep it so for the next two years. Additional large scale improvements and expenditures will be made only at the mandate of the people by referendum vote. The financial outlook on the whole is not discouraging. Some departments are asking for higher salaries and more equipment. These should be allowed when and if current receipts justify but not before.

This report cannot well be finished without emphasis on the fine spirit of zeal and cooperation that has pervaded all its actions and deliberations during the past two years. Actual count reveals that nearly ninety percent of all motions passed during the last year have done so unanimously a fine display of teamwork. Personally, I greatly appreciate the fine assistance and unified effort that the individual aldermen have given to me and to this office the past two years.”[54]


Mayor Wells’ speech reflects his goals at the time of his induction into office of sprucing up the town, repairing roads, beautifying the city and getting water to more areas. Through his midterm speech, he is able to provide concrete examples to the public of what he and other men around the city have been able to accomplish these past two years.

It was announced at the July meeting that Mayor Wells received the honor of traveling to Europe and observing a council meeting of Monmouth, England’s city council. The Rotary Club was planning to form a chapter in Monmouth, England, and Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Wells were invited to help with its creation. This is not the only time they had traveled for Rotary Club—in 1948 they went to Brazil for a Rotary International meeting. Likewise, Monmouth College was to receive a student, Leslie Howells, from Monmouth, England, to attend part of a summer session while the Wells were abroad. Upon hearing of Mayor Wells’ trip, Monmouth, England’s mayor, Bernard Partridge, invited Wells to be a guest of the city council. While in Europe, the Wells also planned to visit Scotland, the home of Wells’ maternal grandmother in Hastings, England, Paris, Switzerland, and Venice, Italy. The Wells were expected to return on August 22.[55] When Wells returned from his trip, he reported back to the council that a meeting had been held by the city council with all its ceremonies as well as that the council was pleased that someone would travel so far to visit and they sent their greeting back to the council of Monmouth, IL. Also, with Wells’ return, his son Adrian Wells presented to the council a request that Ralph Wells and Company be allowed to build scales in the boulevard in front of their office building on South Third Street. During this request, Mayor Wells stepped down as mayor and allowed Alderman Twomney to preside; the request passed.[56]

Mayor Wells underwent yet another operation in October, and it was reported back to the council by Alderman Bowman that he had made it through successfully. During his absence, Alderman Larson acted as mayor pro tem.[57] Meanwhile, the country was facing the Korean war and men were leaving Monmouth to serve in the army. At the November meeting of the city council, Ray Munson of the police force asked permission for a leave of absence. Munson was the second man to request leave.[58]

According to Monmouth law, it was illegal to hold wrestling, boxing, or sparing matches without the consent of the city council. Since Roger Bersted wanted to hold a wrestling match as a benefit for building a club house at South Park, he requested permission from the council for the match. The match would be held at the college gymnasium with popular wrestlers being brought in from Chicago; hopefully there would be a crowd of around 4,000 people.[59] Despite the council’s approval, the Athletic Association stated that the matter of a wrestling match must be placed on the ballot for the public to vote on. The council moved that the wrestling match be placed on the spring ballot.[60] In March, it was further decided that the match would be sponsored by the American Legion and that any funds received exceeding the cost of the club house would go towards the school traffic light fund. The public voted to allow the exhibition of wrestling, sparing and boxing in Monmouth.

Another issue brought before the council in February was the creation of fire districts and providing protection outside city limits. The original proposal was to offer protection up to a half mile outside of city limits, with residents wishing to partake in this service purchasing a five year contract at $50 for a house, $150 for buildings on a farm, and $200 for a business. However, the council was concerned with this plan and wondered whether they could extend the services farther out of town, if they were charging the proper rate, and what the cost of water for the operation would be.[61] A second plan was suggested later in the month for which the fire protection would extend up to a mile and a half from town and would cost $25 per year for property worth up to $10,000, up to $50 for property worth more than the $10,000 with an additional cost of $25 per alarm answered and $10 for each additional hour beyond the first. The money gained from these contracts would then go towards purchasing equipment and a water truck.[62] Although the second plan proved more practical and beneficial than the first, it was decided that the matter of fire protection be given more consideration.

While some locals were working on improving South Park, others were suggesting that more recreational areas be annexed to the town. One such proposal was purchasing land from the M. and St. L from the railroad to be used as a city park and swimming facility. Mayor Wells agreed to negotiate with the railroad over the cost of purchasing the ponds and the state conservation department reported that the pond was well constructed and adaptable for development. A reasonable insurance plan was also presented protecting the city from being liable for any mishaps that may occur at the pond. Although there was general support from both the public and council, one problem still remained, and that was how to pay for the pond since the city funds could not afford to cover it. It was suggested that the ponds be purchased through the use of donations if the railroads were willing to comply.[63] In October, Wells reported back to the council that Mr. Eckhardt of the C.B. & Q. railroad company would be willing to sell the ponds (a total of 11 acres) for a relatively low cost if the city were willing to supply a water main to their water tank and allow free water for the locomotives.[64]

On September 6, 1952, the Gamble Skogmo plant, which provided $8,000 a week in payroll to Monmouth citizens, burnt despite efforts of the Alexis fire department to put out the fire. Technically, the Monmouth fire department was not required to aid in the call because the plant was located outside the city limits and Monmouth had no agreement with the company.[65] The bigger issue, however, was that the water mains from Monmouth to the plant were not large enough to meet the demands of the firemen. The four inch mains on the North side of town were not large enough to meet ample water demands such as a fire requires and therefore caused low pressure in the mains. Gamble Skogmo threatened to not rebuild the plant in the area unless sufficient fire protection was provided and eight inch water mains are installed.[66] This would result in a cost of $8,000 to the city; yet the majority of the public is in favor of the improvement in order to maintain the plant. It has been further suggested that this area north of town be annexed to the city of Monmouth in order to guarantee additional protection.[67]

The water problem associated with the Gamble Skogmo fire led to an investigation of the city water system in order to guarantee that more problems do not occur. During the investigation, it was discovered that the system had deteriorated twenty percent since 1941.[68] The water pressure in both the tanks and pipes were low and failed to meet Illinois standards. In November, the city council moved to adopt Resolution 320 to lay an adequate water main.

 Ironically, on December 8, Ralph Wells and Company’s grain elevator was also destroyed by fire, with damage estimated around $25,000. Firemen responded within four minutes of the call at 2:40 a.m. Local homes were evacuated due to the fact that high winds were carrying sparks, and the C. B. & Q railroad was forced to stop operation. According to the night crew, the fire began in the elevator bag room, and the crew attempted to extinguish the fire, but it was too late. Once men arrived on the scene, they went to work removing records from offices, saving supplies, and trucks ready for a delivery of bulk meal were rescued from the building. Overall, the fire came at a fortunate time since the company had recently made a shipment and the majority of soybean oil was not on hand. Another fortunate instance of the fire was that it occurred a couple of weeks after an extremely dry period; if the fire had been earlier in the month, odds were the entire Commercial Row would have been lost with the fire. Luckily, firemen were able to get the fire under control, and only the elevator was lost with some slight damage done to the soybean expeller and the corn flakes plant which resumed operation a couple of hours after the fire was put out.[69] In order to repair some of the damage from the fire without completely rebuilding, Adrian Wells went before the council on December 15th to ask for permission to build a conveyor from their elevator on the east side of the street to the soybean plant on the west side of the street on South Third street. The conveyor would replace the frame elevator that burnt down and would be forty-five feet at its lowest point, suspended over the road by a truss.[70]

The primary election for the mayoral position was held in March with candidates Walter McMaster, Donovan M. Vance, and independent candidate G. Elmer Pedigo. Donovan Vance won the primary election with a vote of 1219 to 1010.[71] Vance went on to win the election in April and replaced Mayor Wells on May 4, 1953. Before Wells left office, he wished to make a brief speech on the accomplishments of the council during the past four years. The highlights of the speech were included in an article of the Monmouth Review the following day:

 “At the beginning of the meeting Mayor Ralph Wells gave a review of the administration just ending. He said there had been regrets but also satisfaction over the accomplishments. The city was confronted, he said, with usual problems and some unusual ones. He pointed out that he had succeeded an administration (that of Guy Pearson) which had succeeded in reducing the floating debt and he said his administration had continued this trend.

The present bonded debt is $88,000 which is $6,000 or $8,000 less than it was four years ago despite the fact that $34,000 in bonds were issued to buy a new fire truck: the floating debt is down $2,500 and the trust funds are up $33,000, he added.

During the period, also, Monmouth has added to its real property , buying a new “dump,” a lot for the city garage, completed two sections of the southeast storm sewer at a cost of $25,000, leaving only one section to finish, and extended the East Eleventh avenue storm sewer.

Mayor Wells said the fire department’s new truck was a symbol of progress, showing Monmouth had kept pace with the times and yet lived within its budget. He spoke of the water department as the city’s prize asset, as it earns substantial sums for the city. During the administration a new pump was installed in the west well, and the standtower and reservoir were overhauled at a cost of $9,000. He spoke, too, of new bookkeeping equipment for the city’s office, and of water services extended to East Eleventh avenue and Sunny Lane. He recommended that the new 12-inch main along North First street, be commended.

Citing a prolonged study of city needs, Mayor Wells recommended spending $200,000 for a new deep well in the northeastern part of the city, with a standtower nearby which will be double the size of the present tower. He also suggested that the mains be brought up to their former efficiency. He felt the city was well able to undertake this project, which he regards as the most urgent large investment during the new few weeks.

Mayor Wells also commented on improvements made at Monmouth hospital, under the present five member board, and said that the plant is in good shape, although more space is needed. He said the city is facing a problem in regard to sewerage disposal and said the disposal plant is now operating at capacity and will need to be expanded by 1958 or 1960. He pointed out that, by then, the remaining $40,000 debt will be paid off.

There has been progress in public utilities matters, he continued. Monmouth has better telephone service, and a new contract brings in $5,000 or $6,000 a year. The new contract with the power company also brought the city a $25,000 street lighting improvement, without assessment to the property owners or taxpayers.

The street department has enquired a new building, equipment worth $10,000 has been added, and some permanent paving has been done. He urged that the five year plan, worked out some time ago, be followed in carrying out the program. He also recommended the continuance of the motor vehicle tax, saying that the $7,000 now on hand would just about gravel all of the city’s dirt streets by another year.

Mayor Wells cited the Monmouth cemetery as one result of changing conditions, pointing out that now all of the lots are cared for, whereas before only those with perpetual care were maintained. He said many new practices have been added, to assist in the care, one new addition has been opened, and another is being made ready.

He thanked Loren, Murphy and Leo Costello, members of the liquor commission; and A.J. Bowman, Second ward aldermen, for returning their salaries to the city and serving without pay. (Mayor Wells also did so).”[72]

  Upon completion of his position as mayor, Wells began to focus on his business once again. When Vitality Mills owner Thomas J. Lipton, Inc. decided to sell in 1957, Ralph Wells and Company purchased the plant and reopened it as Monmouth Pet Foods Division. After acquiring the plant, Wells introduced a new way of manufacturing dog food using pressure which later became adopted by the pet food industry. Also at this time, Wells sold his Janesville plant.[73]

Wells suffered a heart attack in 1962 and was taken to Rochester, Minnesota, for treatment where they decided he should undergo heart surgery. After his recovery, Wells was allowed to return home to Monmouth, but was returned to Rochester in August due to his worsening condition. The morning of August 28, Ralph Wells passed away at St. Mary’s hospital at the age of seventy-two, this was no surprise since his conditions had become quite grave days before. That morning the Monmouth Review printed his obituary: 

“Ralph R. Wells, 72, of 323 North Ninth street, chairman of the board of Ralph Wells &Co., Monmouth, died this morning at 4 o’clock at Rochester, Minn., where he had been a patient for some weeks at St. Mary’s hospital.

Mr. Wells had a heart attack several months ago and was taken to Rochester at that time, where he underwent heart surgery, and was later able to return for a time to his home in this city, but he was taken back to Rochester recently. His condition had become increasingly grave several days ago and his death was not unexpected.

Funeral services will be held at 1:30 o’clock, Thursday afternoon at the First Methodist Church in charge of the pastor, the Rev. John Collins. Burial will take place in Monmouth cemetery. The family will receive visitors at the Turnbull Funeral Home Wednesday evening.

A memorial fund is being established in Mr. Well’s memory for Monmouth hospital, and contributions may be left at the Turnbull Funeral home or at the church.

Mr. Wells was the first Warren county farm adviser, and served as aldermen and as mayor of Monmouth in addition to the various business activities over a period of more than two score years.

Born November 15, 1889, near Wenona, in Marshall county, Ralph Ray Wells was the son of Daniel B. and Martha Ann (Foster) Wells. Two years after he came to Monmouth, as farm adviser, he married June 30, 1920, Winifred Supple at Deerfield and she survives with their five children, Ralph Richard Wells of VanNuys, Calif., Norman Dwight Wells, Willis Harding Wells and Adrian Ray Wells, all of Monmouth; and Mrs. Dorothy Wells Sherman of Manchester, Mo.  There are 18 grandchildren. A brother Murray Wells, preceded him in death but two sisters survive, Mrs. Milton J. (Della) Robinson of Wenona and Mrs. Herbert V. (Verda) Brown of    Ashland, Ohio.

It was on April, 18 1918 more that 44 years ago, that Earl Bruington, president of the newly organized Warren County Farm Bureau, announced that Ralph R. Wells of Wenona, in Marshall County, had been secured as the first farm adviser. The announcement described him as a practical farmer and said Mr. Wells had shown much hesitancy in taking the position because he had been remarkably successful during the five years he had been farming near Wenona.

He had graduated from the University of Illinois, College of Agriculture, in 1912, and after his graduation had taught “Soils” in a western university. He had specialized in Soils and Livestock at the University of Illinois and had been a Farmers’ Institute lecturer for two years prior to coming to Monmouth. He had been manager of the local telephone company at Wenona and was also president of the Grange in Marshall County. At the time Mr. Bruington made the announcement, he had just returned from Peoria where head and Joseph Adcock of Kelly township completed arrangements for the Warren County Farm Bureau to become a member of the Illinois Agricultural Association.

From the start Mr. Wells was welcomed to Monmouth by both farmers and businessmen, for the directors and committeemen of the Farm Bureau had a banquet in his honor Monday evening July 1, 1918, at the Commercial club, and Dr. George N. Coffey, director of county farm advisers in the state was the speaker. The crowd included many merchants, as well as farmers.

While first steps to organize the Farm Bureau had been taken, December 6, 1917, and they were continued through the winter, it wasn’t until Mr.Wells’ selection that the rapid growth of the organization began. (It now has some 1,800 members as compared to the 416 when Mr. Wells started here.) He was active through the rest of World War I in expanding Warren county’s food production for the war effort.   Aware that farmers were having some financial difficulties after War I, Mr. Wells was active in the organization of a local unit of the National Farm Loan Association operating through the Federal Land Bank at St. Louis, Mo. It was organized just a year after he arrived, on June 30, 1919, a charter being issued August 2, 1919. A.D. Burington was the first president and Mr. Wells served as the first secretary. He served as secretary until about 1938 when he was succeeded by A.D. Prescott. Upon his retirement Robert Grier was named. Now known as the Federal Land Bank Association of Monmouth, the organization has assets as of July 24 of $10,779, 452.

In November, 1933, Mr. Wells assisted in the organization of the Monmouth Production Credit Association, and became its first secretary, holding the two secretaryships simultaneously until 1938, when he was succeeded by John F. Kruidenier, who had been working with him and who is still secretary. Now the organization has assets as of the end of June of $8,855, 154. They now share quarters in the remodeled building at South Main street and West Second avenue, originally built as Monmouth’s post office.

The firm of which he was chairman of the board, Ralph Wells & Co., of Monmouth, was started by Mr. Wells as a grain merchandising business in 1925 with an original capital of $500. It was originally located in a modest building on the west side of South Third street just north of the “Q” tracks. It began production of soybean oil and soybean meal on a small scale, but rapidly expanded and soon it became one of the country’s larger producers in the processing of soybeans.

One of the customers was the Vitality dog food plant, which had been established by the Rosenbalm Grain Company and soon the company was supplying a large amount of soybean meal to that firm.

When Mr. Wells’ sons, Willis, Norma, and Adrian returned from service, they joined their father in the firm and presently a new cornflakes plant was erected at the South Third street plant, whose output largely went to the Vitality firm.

While the company was becoming more interested in the dog food business, it was also expanding its storage facilities for grain, and Monmouth’s tallest structure is the 185,000 bushel grain elevator on South Third Street, completed in 1948.

After the former Vitality plant occupying quarters in the one-time Pattee Plow company’s plant had been succeeded briefly by the Lipton company, the property was acquired by Ralph Wells & Co. and became the pet foods division.

Under the direction of Mr. Wells the firm has grown from a small country elevator to a multi-plant operation became one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of dry pet food and pet food ingredients. Its products, compounded primarily from processed grain and soybeans are sold from coast to coast by other pet food manufacturers and distributors.

Mr. Wells was also the founder and president of Janesville Mills, Inc., Janesville, Wis, which he operated until 1957. He was also a former partner in the Iowa Soy Co., Redfield, Ia., and helped organize the National Soybean Processors Association and served as one of its original directors for almost 15 years.

In 1930, Mr. Wells was elected as Second ward, aldermen in Monmouth’s city council, and served a two-year term, during which he also served as Mayor, pro-tem. He was elected and served as mayor of Monmouth from May1, 1949 to May 1, 1953.

Mr. Wells was a member of the First Methodist Church of Monmouth, and has served as a member of its official board for more than 25 years. He was a member and past president of the Monmouth Rotary Club; a member of Monmouth Lodge No. 397, B.P.O.E.; and of the Delta Phi fraternity.”[74]


The funeral was held at the First Methodist Church in Monmouth on Thursday, August 30, with Rev. John Collins acting as pastor. Pallbearers included John Beyers, George Bruington, James Wafferd, F. Del Kettering, John Kritzer, Max Stults, Dan Brown, and Ted Hoy; also honorary pallbearers included Robert Howard, Dr. C. P. Blair, C.P. Spiker, Dr. Milton Bowman, Dr. O. E. Sterett, Glenn Kistler, Harry Frantz, Lloyd Shughart, Charles Bucanan, Dell B. Hardin, Walter N. Jones, Dr. W. E. Roller, Glenn Sharp, D. C. Walters, Ralph Walters, and Durham Lucas.[75] The funeral procession then continued to the Sixth Street cemetery where he was buried in the Green Lawn section.

After Wells’ death, Ralph Wells & Company was controlled by his three sons and the business continued to expand. In 1963, a new plant was added from Springfield, Tennessee; and the company continued to produce pet foods under its own label as well as other companies’. By 1969, the company was reporting annual sales of $11 million and the company announced its plans to merge with the National Can Corporation, making Wells a division of the National Pet Food Corporation. In 1978, The National Can Corporation sold the Wells division to Savannah Foods & Industries, which by 1981 had complete ownership of the property owned by the Wells Division.[76]

Wells’ life was that of a hardworking man. He graduated from the University of Illinois and returned to his hometown with the intention of making a life for himself farming, yet his decision to become Warren County’s farm adviser opened the door of opportunity for him and others. He helped farmers get ahead during difficult times through the creation of the Warren County Farm Loan Association and the Monmouth Production Credit Association. Wells also started his own grain and soybean processing business which grew rapidly and served as an employment opportunity for citizens as well as a market for local agricultural products. The addition of the dog food plant further benefited Ralph Wells & Company and was a tribute to the man’s success. Finally, his involvement in city politics in the positions of aldermen and mayor allowed Wells to further benefit the community. The contributions made by Wells most certainly influenced the history and progress of Monmouth especially in the area of agriculture. It was his knowledge and people skills that expanded the farm bureau and introduced the production of soybeans to the area. Overall, Ralph Wells the farmer, the businessman, and the politician made a lasting impact on Monmouth in the first half of the twentieth century.


The Wells Elevator located on South Third Street.[77]

Wells’ campaign advertisement as published in the Monmouth Review-Atlas.[78]

This biography was written in the fall of 2006 in William Urban's historiography class at Monmouth College.

[1] “Ralph R. Wells Died today at Rochester, Minn.,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, August 28, 1962, 1.

[2] Warren County Illinois History and Families (Kentucky: Turner Publishing Co., 2003), 281.

[3] “Ralph R. Wells Died today at Rochester, Minn.,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, August 28, 1962, 1.

[4] Ralph Eckley, “Farm Bureau nearly 70 years old,” Eckley Articles Book #8, Monmouth Daily Review-Atlas Atlas, April 19, 1986.

[5] “Ralph R. Wells Died Today Rochester, Minn.,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, August 28, 1962, 1.

[6] Ralph Eckley, “Wells found lots of opportunity here,” Eckley Articles Book #33, Monmouth Daily Review-AtlasAtlas, April 10, 1986.

[7] Jeff Rankin, “The Wells Elevator.” in Born of the Prairie 1831-1981, ed. Jeff Rankin (Monmouth: Kellog Printing Co., 1992),45.

[8] Ralph Eckley, “Farm Loan groups and trouble times,” Eckley Articles book #9, Monmouth Review-Atlas, February 3, 1986.

[9] Warren County Illinois History and Families (Kentucky: Turner Publishing Co., 2003), 281.

[10] “Mrs. Ralph Wells died Wednesday.” Monmouth Review-Atlas, May 23, 1974, 3.

[11] Monmouth birth certificate, b# 32149.

[12] Monmouth birth certificate b# 53095, b# 53096, b# 64201.

[13] Methodist records book #5, 895.

[14] Council Minutes, April 1, 1929, 281.

[15] Council Minutes, May 6, 1929, 384.

[16] Council Minutes, July 26, 1929, 394.

[17] Council Minutes, November 18, 1929, 402.

[18] Council Minutes, January 6, 1930, 405.

[19] Council Minutes, May 5, 1930, 416.

[20] Council Minutes, July 7, 1930, 422.

[21] Council Minutes, Aug. 18, 1930, 425.

[22] Council Minutes, Sept. 1, 1930, 427.

[23] Council Minutes, Sept. 15, 1930, 428.

[24] Council Minutes, Aug. 16, November 17, December 15, and February 9 1930-31, 425, 431, 432, 437.

[25] Council Minutes, May 4, 1930, 445.

[26] “Heavy Damage at Ralph Wells Soybean Plant,” Monmouth Review- Atlas, June, 13, 1944, 1.

[27]Jeff Rankin, “The Wells Elevator”, 45.

[28] “Corn Flake plant given initial test,” Monmouth Review- Atlas, May 17, 1948, 1.

[29] Union Party Campaign Ad, Monmouth Review- Atlas, February 5, 1949, 2.

[30] “Monmouth Goes wet by 119 votes in closest election since prohibition repeal” Monmouth Review-Atlas, April 20, 1949, 172.

[31] Council Minutes, April 28, 1949, 174-175.

[32] “Cases of Polio continue to climb in the state,” Monmouth Review- Atlas, July 29, 1949, 1.

[33] Council Minutes, August 1, 1949, 185.

[34] “36 Counties have not reported polio cases,” Monmouth Review- Atlas, August 2, 1949, 1.

[35] “City will aid in campaign against polio,” Monmouth Review- Atlas August 2, 1949, 2.

[36] Council Minutes, August 15, 1949.

[37] “War on Speeders launched,” Monmouth Review- Atlas, August 3, 1949, 3.

[38] “Faster Speeds get approval,” Monmouth Review- Atlas, June 6, 1950, 4.

[39] Monmouth Review- Atlas, June 20, 1950.

[40] “Council talks improvements needed in city,” Monmouth Review- Atlas, August 8, 1950, 1.

[41] Council minutes, August 7, 1950, 214.

[42] “City is Found with Demand for boosts in pay,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, September 19, 1950, 6.

[43] Council minutes, September 19, 1950, 217.

[44] “City Council retains option on fire truck,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, December 5, 1950, 8.

[45] “Civilian Defense Bill with wide powers for government is sent to the white house,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, January 2, 1951, 1.

[46] Council Minutes, February 5, 1951, 224-225.

[47] “City Council names DeBok as mayor Pro Tem,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, January 3, 1951, 3.

[48] Council Minutes, February 5, 1951, 224-225.

[49] Monmouth Review-Atlas, February 6, 1951, 4.

[50] Council Minutes, December 4, 1950, 222.

[51] Council Minutes, January 15, 1951, 224.

[52] “Traffic Report made to city,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, May 8, 1951, 3.

[53] “Plan drive to slow down cars on main streets,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, June 19, 1951, 4.

[54] “Mayor Wells in Report to City on Improvements,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, May 8, 1951, 4.

[55] “Mayor Wells and Wife plant trip,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, July 3, 1951, 4.

[56] Council Minutes, September 4, 1951, 243.

[57] Council Minutes, October 15, 1951, 246.

[58] “Ray Munson granted a leave,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, November 6, 1951, 3.

[59] “Plan wrestling benefit for South Park aid,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, February 5, 1952, 3.

[60] Council Minutes, February 18, 1952, 252.

[61] “Cemetery Rules gain approval of Aldermen,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, February 5, 1952, 3.

[62] “Fire District proposal for protection,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, February 19, 1952, 4.

[63] “Council talked of many things last night,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, April 8, 1952, 4.

[64] Council Minutes, October 6, 1952, 266.

[65] “Protection for Gamble plant is considered,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, September 16, 1952, 3.

[66] “Enforcement of city licenses to start Oct. 15,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, October 7, 1952, 4.

[67] “Protection for Gamble plant is considered,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, September 16, 1952, 3.

[68] “Water matters considered by city council,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, October 21, 1952, 4.

[69] “Grain Elevator at Wells Soybean Processing Plant Burned today with loss estimated at $25,000,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, December 6, 1952, 1.

[70] Council Minutes, December 15, 1952, 270.

[71] Council Minutes, March 2, 1953, 275.

[72] “Vance becomes City’s mayor at council session,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, May 5, 1953, 1& 4.

[73] Jeff Rankin, “The Wells Elevator” ,45.

[74] “Ralph R. Wells Died today at Rochester, Minn.,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, August. 28, 1962, 1.

 [75] “Funeral Service,” Monmouth Review-Atlas, Aug 30, 1962, 3.

[76] Jeff Rankin, “The Wells Elevator” , 45.

[77] Jeff Rankin, “The Wells Elevator”, 45. 

[78] Monmouth Review-Atlas, February 5, 1949, 2.