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Philanthropy flows from frugal habits, generous heart

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By Marion Blackburn

WILSON, N.C. — Generosity became a habit early in life for Beverly A. Wells.

From her first monthly allowance of $5, she gave 50 cents to her church. She saved what she could and, at year’s end, bought a U.S. savings bond.

Born during World War II and versed in economy, she learned careful spending habits. Her choices left more to give to others.

“I consider myself frugal, an extremely conservative spender,” she says. “I’d rather donate to someone else than spend it on me.”

She is sharing the fruits of a lifetime’s thriftiness by donating $35,000 to Wilson Area Habitat for Humanity in North Carolina, the largest individual gift ever to the local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International.

Wells, 62, says she feels guided by her heart and inspired by her parents, who were dairy farmers and merchants in the North Carolina mountains. Born and raised in Leicester, near Asheville, she began working in her father’s general store when she was only eight.

“I could make change for five dollars,” she says. “If they gave me more, I had to ring the bell to get my daddy’s attention.”

In those days, she says, bread was 17 cents. Her first bicycle was $15, money she earned by carrying out small chores for her parents.

Through the years, she continued to save, even as she raised two children and ran a household. She made good use of loaned clothing for herself and her children.

                                 Beverly A. Wells

Home: Wilson, N.C.

Born: 1943, Leicester, N.C.

Education: Mars Hill College; UNC-Greensboro, 1964, B.S., home economics.

Career: Financial counselor and admitting interviewer, N.C. Memorial Hospital, UNC-Chapel Hill

Family: son, daughter, granddaughter

Pet: Dog, Max

Inspiration: Parents, Hal and Edith Morrow Wells; Christian faith

Personal Motto: “It’s not as important how much money you have, but how you choose to spend it.”

Her parents knew how to make it through hard times, and she learned from them, she says.

“I am a product of the Depression, too,” she says. Her father is deceased and her mother lives nearby in a nursing home.

Wells chose Habitat for Humanity because she wanted to dramatically improve life for another family. Her first anonymous donation was $10,000 and she followed it with additional gifts.

“I heard a house would cost $35,000 and I said, ‘I’ll be a sponsor. Let’s get a house built,’” she says.

The house will be named for her mother, Edith Morrow Wells, and for her granddaughter, Morrow Lynne Entrekin.

Construction on the Morrow-Wells House should begin in August. A family with a handicapped child has been chosen to live there.

She disclosed her gift reluctantly when Habitat leaders persuaded her to lead by example.

“They said, ‘We can do better if you go public,’” she says. “It may help someone else to step forward. We can all do more than we think we can.”

Raeford Flowers, president of Wilson Area Habitat for Humanity, says he feels grateful for her commitment to the community.

“It’s heartwarming to see such interest from an individual,” he says. “We’ve had groups that would sponsor a house, but not an individual like Ms. Wells. I couldn’t be more thankful for her.”

Wilson’s Habitat began in 1989 and has built10 houses. Like other local Habitat affiliates, it requires those purchasing its homes to contribute 250 hours of “sweat equity,” either by assisting with construction or performing other volunteer work. The work must be completed before closing.

The new homeowners pay a monthly no-interest mortgage based on the cost to construct the home, usually about $325 a month.

The Wilson affiliate has no formal budget, with only one part-time paid staff member, Flowers says. His position, like all others, is  volunteer job. The board of directors has 27 members.

“It’s a community effort,” he says. “We have a lot of people willing to get involved.”

Still, at times there is uncertainty.

“Sometimes we have built houses on faith,” he says. “We didn’t have a commitment when we started. But we always find generous people who donate to get the job done. It’s a collective effort.”

For Wells, faith also plays an important role.

“That has influenced everything else in my life,” she says.

She believes ordinary people can do extraordinary deeds.

“Most donations do not come from the very rich,” she says. “It’s people who tithe from their social security check, who donate their labor. It’s everyday people who make a difference.”

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