Confronting Calamities With a Can-Do Attitude
Retired city manager reflects on Wells’ growth and how natural disasters bring out the best in residents
By Dianna Troyer
Since retiring as Wells’ city manager, Jolene Supp jokes she might leave town in February—the month she faced once-in-a-century catastrophes three different years. She has dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, a flood, and an earthquake.
“Those events brought out the best in Wells residents,” says Jolene, who retired in December. “Considering all that’s happened, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a hoard of locusts flying into town during February. We’ve made lemonade out of lemons over the years.”
Her replacement, Jordan Tilley, started work November 1.
Shortly before the pandemic struck, Jolene considered retiring but postponed it. That decision benefitted Wells.
Jolene secured funding from the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act. The CARES money paid for proctors at the Boys and Girls Club, the Family Resource Center’s kindergarten program, business stimulation, and a new chlorinator at the city well.
She has also written countless grants during the past decades.
“Jolene’s ability to put together a grant application is nothing short of legendary,” Mayor Layla Walz says.
Jolene has never kept track of the value of the grants she has written.
“It’s not about the money,” she says. “All the money in the world doesn’t matter. Human capital is worth more. I hope I’ve been able to bring groups together to achieve local goals and transform Wells into a place that everyone is proud to call home.”
Jolene oversaw the ongoing renovation of El Rancho, a downtown historic casino and bar built in 1949 and severely damaged by an earthquake in 2008. She envisioned it as a community center, restaurant and small business incubator.
Jolene landed a grant from the Nevada Preservation Foundation to help restore the building. The roof has been replaced, and work is taking place on the first floor.
In awarding the El Rancho grant, foundation Executive Director Heidi Swank described Jolene as “an amazing force of nature.” She was impressed with Jolene’s powers of persuasion, dedication to Wells and assurance that residents would support El Rancho’s future.
Jolene was home when an unforgettable, devastating 6.0 earthquake struck at 6:16 a.m., February 21, 2008, causing more than $10 million in damage and ruining more than 35 homes and businesses. Wells Rural Electric Company’s 51-ton substation transformer skidded 6 inches on its concrete pad yet continued to function.
“At first, I thought a train had derailed,” Jolene says. “My husband knew it was an earthquake. I was at City Hall in five minutes.”
She says she is always impressed with how city and county employees and residents team up to deal with disasters.
Besides the quake, there was severe flooding caused by a sudden rainstorm in February 2017. The ground was still frozen, and the flooding damaged streets, homes, and businesses. Teams formed to help residents recover.
While the disasters were the worst of times, Jolene recalls one of the best of times. In 2000, she received the Citizen of the Year Award from Wells Family Resource and Cultural Center. She hung the plaque on her office wall.
Whatever issues she confronted, Jolene says she was guided by a favorite motto: Lead, follow or get out of the way.
“Whatever happens, you have to keep looking up, remembering the vision, setting goals and putting plans in place,” she says. “There will always be barriers and people who feel if you gain, they will lose. You can’t let that interfere with your vision, goals, and plans.”
Jolene says a city manager is only as good as the city team, volunteers, organizations and citizens who allow the manager to achieve that vision.
“While people feel I did things, it really was the community and the city team that has accomplished so much,” she says. “I have the pleasure of working for the best boards and mayors that a person could ever ask for.”
Wells’ Economic Development
Jolene says she is pleased with how Wells has developed in the past two decades.
Even before the earthquake, there was a movement to improve Wells, she says. By reorganizing the finances, streets were paved; sidewalks built; and wells, water tanks and lines installed for future development. Energy-efficiency programs were also implemented.
“After the quake, the city had reserves to build a new City Hall, public works building and community swimming pool with no debt incurred,” Jolene says. “We pinch ourselves every day when we come to work at City Hall because it’s comfortable, professional, and well-designed. Our previous building was a former dorm with no air conditioning.”
She says more businesses have come to town.
“We have national franchises like Family Dollar Store and Subway,” she says. “We have an industrial park, airport hangars and more housing. We’ve done a lot.”
The new Hampton Inn had its grand opening last year.
“It’s a beautiful building and an asset to us,” Jolene says. “It has a community meeting room and pool. Another hotel will be coming, too.”
A new 4,000-square-foot, $500,000 senior citizens center is being built on the south side of town. The former center will become a food bank.
Jolene praises local residents for establishing new community organizations, including Wells Family Resource Center, Hummin’bolt Quilt Guild and Boys and Girls Club.
“Wells Rural Electric has always been a huge support,” she says. “These groups have not only sponsored countless events, scholarships and community activities, but also built impressive structures to develop our community.”
Jolene says she applied to be city manager in March 1999 because she wanted a job that enabled her to make positive changes in town. She was already familiar with local issues from volunteering with City of Wells Building Department and Wells Chamber of Commerce.
She recalls describing her goals to Mike Eriksen—at the time, a member of Wells City Council and president of Wells Propane.
“I told him I wanted to see Wells grow because when you bring more dollars to the tills of the businesses, you bring more dollars to the city,” she says.
Mike says her personality made her ideal for the job.
“I’ve always appreciated Jolene’s determination to see projects completed,” Mike says. “Under her leadership, Wells has come a long way in terms of economic development. She has expanded infrastructure and brought in new businesses. She has always had Wells’ best interests at heart.”
The town’s mayor agrees.
“Her dedication to the city and knowledge of state programs and regulations has been invaluable,” Layla says. “Jolene’s passion for economic development is evident in her grant writing, which has provided financing to develop an industrial park, establish the Redevelopment Agency and start our corridor revitalization project.”
In retirement, Jolene plans to spend time with her family, golf, volunteer, sew and quilt.
“It’s gratifying to look around town and see how much we’ve accomplished in two decades,” she says. “Whether I work in City Hall or not, Wells is always in my heart.”