Jolly and Well – Murrayite columnist JoAnn Jacobsen-Wells finds contentment in service
Dec 10, 2019 01:44PM
By Shaun Delliskave
JoAnn Jacobsen-Wells poses with Ethiopian girls who have been assisted by her charitable efforts for the Children of Ethiopia Education Fund. (Photo courtesy JoAnn Jacobsen-Wells)
By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]
Someone once told JoAnn Jacobsen-Wells that the two first things he read in each edition of The Salt Lake Tribune were the obituaries, to see who died, and “Rolly & Wells,” to see who was about to. The Murray columnist, along with her co-writer, Paul Rolly, caused numerous Utah power players to cringe when they were called on the carpet, often hilariously, in their popular newspaper column.
The former Murray High cheerleader was hired at the Tribune at age 20 as an obituary writer. “Mortuary directors would quip that people were dying to get into my column,” Wells said. She recalls the newsroom’s floor, covered with cigarette butts and wastebaskets filled with mini bottles, and she was given the nickname of “Fifi,” a politically incorrect term of endearment. It was the glory days of journalism—made colorful by such recognized writers as Dan Valentine, John Mooney, and Don Brooks (the “dead fish editor”).
“Despite the unique personalities of each reporter and editor, we were a family—dedicated to providing accurate information to the public,” Wells said. “Paul Rolly joined The Tribune as a copy boy, so we grew up in the business together, finally becoming coauthors of ‘Rolly & Wells.’”
Wells started at the Tribune in the 1970s, then took a post at the Deseret News until being coaxed back to the Tribune in 1992 to be paired with Rolly. Wells calls her 14 years as a columnist the highlight of her career.
“While we took our responsibility seriously, Paul and I also had a lot of fun and often were a bit mischievous. When we heard that The Deseret News was thinking about changing its name, we quickly went to the Department of Commerce and registered all the names the News was considering.”
The award-winning columnist left her gig to take on a more significant challenge—high school students. She retired several years ago, after teaching in Brighton High School’s English Department.
“I will always be a journalist and a strong advocate of the Second Amendment, but I am glad I am not still a full-time journalist. The profession has changed too much and is under constant attack by politicians who forget they are public servants. A free press is essential if our democracy is to survive. I cringe at the term ‘fake news’ because it not only is making people mistrustful of solid journalists, but it is putting journalists’ lives at risk.”
In retirement, Wells is just as busy as ever. She still writes but also currently serves on the boards of numerous charitable organizations, such as Murray’s KidsEat! Foundation. Wells lived in Ethiopia for two years while a team of educators directed by her father, Dr. Gene J. Jacobsen, established the Department of Education at Haile Selassie University. Her memories of the East African nation have spurred her to help people struggling there.
“I treasure my past experiences, but I try to present and be dedicated to something much bigger and more important than myself. Because I have had a blessed life, it is my responsibility to help the less fortunate—which is why I became involved in Children of Ethiopia Education Fund, a Utah-based charity that sponsors the education of the poorest of poor Ethiopian girls.”
After co-authoring “Mac Attack!” about former University of Utah head football coach Ron McBride, they have remained close friends, both having a passion for helping kids. McBride asked Wells to become executive director of The Ron McBride Foundation (RMF), which raises money to fund after-school programs for at-risk children and youth in Utah’s Title 1 schools. At-risk teenagers are prime targets for gangs, stress, bullying, depression, boredom, social isolation, absenteeism, drug abuse, suicidal thoughts and food insecurity.
This year, Wells will be raising funds at “Coach Mac’s Holiday Extravaganza,” to be held Sat., Dec. 7, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Holladay City Hall, 4580 S. 2300 East, Holladay. It is free to the public, who can have their photos taken with Santa and McBride—free of charge. Among the vendors will be Children of Ethiopia Education Fund crafts and Bliss Wreaths (plus jewelry, baked goods, Ute memorabilia and a silent auction). Among the groups performing at the party are the Highland Jr. High School cheerleaders and West Jordan Middle School jazz band.
More information found online at coeef.org (Children of Ethiopia Education Fund) and theronmcbridefoundation.org.