The Eller College Remembers Don Wells

July 13, 2022
front of McClelland hall

The Eller College of Management is sad to share the news of the June 12, 2022 passing of beloved professor and colleague Don Wells.

Don received his BA in Business Economics at DePauw University, and his PhD in Economics from the University of Oregon.  After teaching at Southern Illinois University for nine years, Don joined the faculty of the University of Arizona in 1969 where he taught for an additional 43 years.

In over 50 years of teaching, Don taught a broad and extremely successful array of classes on different economics topics to various audiences. The bulk of his teaching responsibilities focused on the principles level where Don provided first and second-year students with an exposure to the “economic way of thinking.” It is in these classes that Don became a teaching legend.

 In addition to his crystal clear and engaging lecturing style, Don is renowned for his many famous stories to illustrate difficult concepts in an understandable fashion. For example, “Mr. Wells Lighthouse” detailed the challenges associated with getting individuals to voluntarily pay for the services provided to them by a lighthouse, documenting the types of “market failures” that can result in the provision of various public goods, while “Dry Gulch” dealt with silversmiths “loaning out” silver deposited with them for safe storage, illustrating the role of fractional reserves by banks in money supply expansion. 


In addition to teaching many tens of thousands of undergraduate students, Don also devoted significant time and effort to teaching economics and teaching strategies to all levels of instructors.  Over the decades, several thousand primary and secondary school teachers from around the nation attended his many teacher workshops during the summer. Additionally, several hundred university faculty have attended Don’s pioneering teaching workshops which demonstrated how the teaching of economics can be and has been revolutionized by the use of experiments and classroom markets embedded within foundational principles courses. 

Over the years, Don most appropriately received numerous prestigious awards at the college, university and national levels, and while always very unassuming, Don was particularly gratified by the creation of the Eller College’s “Don Wells Award for Faculty Mentor” which is presented annually to a faculty member who has been outstanding in their teaching and in their efforts to engage students both inside and outside the classroom. 

“Don was a kind, dignified and mild-mannered Clark Kent who transformed into Superman every time he entered a classroom,” says Jeff Schatzberg, dean for an interim period and Frances McClelland Chair of Accounting. “It was an extreme pleasure to know the man as a colleague and friend, and to witness the incredible impact he had on everyone he touched with his teaching.”

The Don Wells Oustanding Mentor Award was created by the family of Lindsay Morris ’00 BSBA (Marketing/Entrepreneurship) to keep his legacy alive at the time of Don’s retirement.

“Dr. Wells had such an incredible and forever impact on countless students and faculty over all those years that he blessed everyone with his brilliance and passion for teaching,” says Morris. “May his memory continue to be a source of inspiration for other faculty and all of the students who were so positively impacted by him.”

Don is survived by his wife of 67 years, Jeanne, and his two children, five grandchildren and two  great-grandchildren.