Jean Hess Wells
Jean Hess Wells ΔΥ - Georgia (1928 – 1996)
The strong, poised and gracious Jean Hess Wells had an untiring sense of commitment to Kappa Kappa Gamma. Her election to the presidency capped 30 years of service to the Fraternity – and continued 16 more years after that presidency until her death in 1996. Her legacy is impressive.
The Delta Upsilon charter member (rushed, pledged and initiated by future President Fran Alexander) learned while still a collegian to prepare for installation of new chapters and for initiations, having been chosen for that assignment by Clara O. Pierce. She was to go on to participate in more than 15 chapter installations, many of them before becoming Fraternity President (1976-1980).
Jean had married shortly after graduation but returned to her chapter for rush and to become Pledge Advisor. She also served as President of the Atlanta Alumnae Association. When Jean and her physician husband, Robert, moved to Memphis, Jean commuted to Oxford, Miss., to serve as chapter adviser at “Ole Miss.” At the same time, she was President of the Memphis (Tenn.) Alumnae Association.
Upon her return to Georgia, Jean got involved as advisor to the first colony and then the chapter at Emory, and, during these early years of service to the Fraternity, she became a mother to a son and daughter. She spent five years as Mu Province Director of Chapters (1962-1967) and then became an assistant to Presidents Alexander and Barbeck (1967-1970). Among Jean’s duties as an assistant was the supervision of Fraternity standards as they related to chapters. She became Vice President in 1970, Director of Chapters two years later and held that position until her election as President in 1976.
As a stately President, Jean presided over Kappa’s largest period of growth since the Fraternity’s founding: more than 13,000 women pledged Kappa, the numer of chapters reached 107 and alumna groups grew to 392. Alumnae formed fleur-de-lis committees to provide special services in times of need; the Fraternity group insurance program was offered; the career program, CHOICES, was developed; the Loyalty Fund was initiated; and The Heritage Museum was established.
After her presidency, Jean became the first Chairman of the Museum Board of Trustees and continued to serve on The Heritage Museum Board for a decade (1980-1990). She was both Fraternity Ritualist and a member of the Panhellenic Affairs Committee as Kappa’s second alternate to the National Panhellenic Conference until her death (1980-1996).
Her interest in The Heritage Museum resulted from her long-standing involvement with the Board of Trustees for the High Museum of Art in Atlanta (one of her many civic interests) and her love of antiques. It was Jean who envisioned Headquarters as a beautifully restored, historic mansion that would serve as both an efficient business facility and as the archives for collection, restoration and preservation of Kappa history. Her interest in the Fraternity history continued while serving as advisor to the Minnie Stewart Foundation. Jean had worked with Mary Turner Whitney in reprinting the Book of Ritual after the Convention of 1972, piquing her interest in and study of Greek philosophy. Jean developed a slide show that illustrated the connection between Fifth Century B.C. Greece and the philosophy of Kappa’s ritual.
Jean’s travels and chapter visitations revealed variation in how ritual and initiation were performed, so she began presenting model initiations at Convention to illustrate proper procedures and pronunciations. Those fortunate to attend came away with a true understanding of its significance, beauty and meaning. A Ritual Award is given at Convention in honor and memory of Jean.
Eight years after Jean’s term as President, this dedicated Kappa received the Loyalty Award in 1988. In 1995, she received the prestigious Pi Beta Phi Panhellenic Woman of the Year award, which is not given annually, but reserved for times when someone exhibits exceptional leadership in the Panhellenic Community. At the 1998 General Convention, the Atlanta Alumnae Association presented to the Fraternity, in Jean’s memory, antique silver candlesticks to be used at chapter installations and Conventions to replace the fragile Ware Candlesticks. It is a fitting tribute to one who had such interest in undergraduates and the ritual.