August 28, 2008

Fiesta Heir Leaves $9 Million to Nature Group

By Rick Steelhammer

An heir to the fortune earned by Fiesta brand tableware has left $9 million to The Nature Conservancy to support its conservation efforts in West Virginia and around the world.

The gift, believed to be the largest conservation bequest ever made in West Virginia, was announced Wednesday by The Nature Conservancy.

Robert Wells of Newell, Hancock County, who died in July 2007 at the age of 80, chose to make the multimillion bequest to the conservation group because of its global reach and proven record of conservation accomplishments, according to Stuart N. "Buzz" Hutchison III, Wells' attorney and close friend.

Wells and his late wife, Carolyn, who also left a generous bequest to the conservancy following her death in 2005, "had done some traveling in areas where the conservancy works - areas like the Chilean coast, where they saw penguins and seals," said Hutchison. "Bob and Carolyn liked the fact that instead of being just local or even regional, the conservancy would reach out in a global way to protect nature."

Wells spent most of his life in the management of The Homer Laughlin China Co., a business his family founded in 1897.

The bulk of his gift will be spent on the conservancy's international work, which involves land conservation projects in all 50 states and 30 countries, in addition to marine conservation projects in 21 nations. Twenty percent of the $9 million will spent in West Virginia, primarily on globally significant habitat in the central Appalachian mountains, according to Rodney Bartgis, state director of The Nature Conservancy.

"His gift gives us the opportunity to be more thoughtful and think farther ahead about the conservation investments we want to make," Bartgis said. The impact of Wells' vision and generosity "will live on for generations," he added.

Both Robert and Carolyn Wells were enthusiastic anglers, according to Hutchison.

"For their first date, Bob picked up Carolyn at 4:30 a.m. to go catfishing," he said. That date marked the beginning of a shared love of nature and the outdoors that spanned the rest of their lives together, according to Hutchison. The couple traveled to Mexico, Chile and New Zealand to fish and enjoy wildlife and natural beauty.

Bartgis said that some of the $1.8 million of the bequest earmarked for West Virginia projects would almost certainly include habitat to protect freshwater fisheries.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at [email protected] or 348- 5169.

Originally published by Staff writer.

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