Dr. Ralph Wells, a respected local medical doctor and beloved member of the King William community, died in his home Wednesday morning. He was 84 years old.
Wells touched many aspects of San Antonio since moving to the city in 1957. He was an advocate for the King William neighborhood, his home of more than 30 years, co-founded the San Antonio Wheelmen, a group that kickstarted the modern local cyclist community, served his country in the military for 23 years, and treated the people of San Antonio at his private practice for more than 32 years.
Wells’ death is preceded by his father Rev. G. Ronald Wells, mother Grethel Nichols Wells, first wife Barbara Cumming Wells, and son John Ronald Wells. He is survived by his loving wife Ruth, brother Keith, sister-in-law Sharon, and their family.
Perhaps best known for his many years of tireless efforts in the medical field, Wells served as the chief of Gastroenterology at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in Fort Bliss, Texas before volunteering for the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. His wife, Ruth, said he served for 23 years, 9 months, and 16 days in a multitude of positions.
During those 23 years, Wells found himself in the middle of the Tet Offensive.
“I got through it with the help of good associates and a lot of luck,” he told the Rivard Report in December. Despite his plethora of accomplishments, Wells was steadfast in his humbleness.
His final military assignment was as chief of Gastroenterology at Brooks Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston where he was involved in Operation Homecoming from 1973-1976, supervising the medical evaluations of returning Vietnam prisoners of war. He also was involved in the medical care of President Lyndon B. Johnson from 1966 until his death in 1973.
Wells retired from the army in 1976, after accruing military awards such as the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, Vietnam Service Medal, and National Defense Service Medal.
He then went on to practice with the San Antonio Medical Associates for 32 years. Between 1972-1986, he was a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center and authored and contributed to more than 50 scientific papers and books.
But back home in King William, the historic district Dr. Wells moved to in the ’70s, he was known for starting the King William Association Scholarship. Every year, the scholarship is granted to a handful of Brackenridge High School seniors to attend the Alamo College of their choice.
Bill Cogburn, Wells’ neighbor of more than 20 years, said Wells once told him he decided to start the scholarship because of a group of studious high schoolers he met during his morning walks on the river.Wells asked the group what had brought them down to the river to study. They responded that their home lives were not great, so the river became an appealing alternative.
He befriended them and later approached the King William Association about starting a scholarship fund. Some of the proceeds from the King William Fair now go toward the scholarship, but in the beginning, a lot of the funding came directly from Wells.
That was the kind of man he was.
Cogburn and Wells took many walks through the streets of King William in the 26 years they knew each other.
“We got along famously,” Cogburn said. “He was a big storyteller.”
Diana Treviño, the former co-owner of King William’s El Mirador, where Wells was a regular for decades, echoed Cogburn’s thought.
“He always had a story to exchange,” she said. “He was a very kind man.”
For decades, Wells and his “breakfast club” stopped by the restaurant five to six days a week before jetting off to his office just a few blocks away. “Sometimes, he would come for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” Trevino said. “All the waiters knew him and when he sat down, they knew his likes and brought him the (dishes) he liked.”
Wells was also an avid cyclist. With the help of Dr. Elliot Weser and Neal Collins, Wells helped establish the San Antonio Wheelmen in 1971, the first organized group of cyclists since the Alamo Wheelmen in the 1890s. In the early ’70s, biking hadn’t hit the mainstream yet, but Wells told the Rivard Report in December that he cycled to stay fit and to clear his mind. To him, the gym was constricting whereas the fresh air held endless opportunities.
“I could’ve had a terrible day in school with challenging problems, but I could go out and in an hour and a half, I could recharge my batteries,” he said.
Before his death, Wells asked that in lieu of flowers or gifts, individuals wishing to pay their respects should donate to the King William Association Endowment Fund at the Alamo Colleges Foundation with a memo indicating the gift is in memory of Ralph F. Wells, M.D. Checks should be made payable to Alamo Colleges Foundation at 1819 N. Main Ave.
The funeral and memorial service dates are currently pending.
Top image: Dr. Ralph Wells died on August 10, 2016 at the age of 84. Photo courtesy of Ruth Wells.