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Kinston.com: Lenoir County legend dies at 102


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Lenoir County legend dies at 102

Hollace Wells, a Lenoir County native and entrepreneur, has passed away at the age of 102.

Born into a sharecropping family in La Grange in 1908, Wells came up in a time when children had to go to work at an early age. After several years of working in tobacco and tending to hogs, Wells decided he’d had enough of manual labor and decided to head north in search of opportunity.

“He never did like workin’ outside all that much,” said Wells’ daughter, Linda Hapsburg. “Come to think of it, he didn’t like workin’ inside all that much either.”

While Wells enjoyed the job opportunities and lax enforcement of obscenity laws in New York and Boston, his family said he never grew accustomed to the differences in southern and northern cuisine.

“He told me the first time he went into a restaurant in New York and asked for a biscuit, the waitress slapped him,” Hapsburg said. “Apparently ‘biscuit’ was a code word in the red light district up there.”

After years of struggling to make ends meet as a door-to-door door salesman and a Rockette, Wells decided he’d had enough and came back to Lenoir County.

“He got a job working over at the prison in Johnston County,” said Wells’ cousin, Ashley Keene. “An inmate attacked him with a sharpened banana in the yard one day, so they promoted him.”

Wells was promoted to head guard, which meant he was involved with the electrocutions of the prison’s most notorious inmates.

“His nickname was ‘Hotplate’,” Keene said.

After retiring from the prison system, Wells got into the aquaculture business.

“He was a fan of the old James Bond movies, especially the one with the man-eating piranhas,” Keene said. “A friend of his had made a small fortune as a catfish farmer, so he decided to raise piranhas.”

According to press clippings from this time, Wells’ piranha business was a booming success. The Lenoir County Chamber of Commerce went so far as to name him Businessman of the Year in 1978.

“It was all going fine until one of our neighbors’ cows got loose,” Hapsburg said. “That cow eased into one of our piranha beds to cool off and them piranhas jumped all over her; she kept trying to ‘moo’ but she never got passed ‘mmm’.”

The owner of the cow subsequently sued Wells for everything he had, thus leaving him penniless.

“It was bad after the piranha farm went under,” Hapsburg said. “We had to survive on piranha sandwiches for several months, and man, are they boney.”

For the past decade, Wells was confined to a wheelchair due to a hip injury he suffered during his days as a Rockette. Although his movement was limited, his spirit never waned.

“He always had a twinkle in his eye and a dirty thought in his mind,” Keene said. “Until we found the wrist restraints in the medical catalog, we went through about four nurses a month.”

Wells’ friends remember him as a gregarious soul who enjoyed everything life had to offer.

“He borrowed $12 from me in 1943 and never paid it back,” said John Johnson of Jenny Lind. “That’s okay, though, ‘cause if he’s wearing any fancy cufflinks in that coffin, they will not make it with him to the other side.”

According to his obituary, Wells fathered three children, invented the hush puppy and coined the phrase, “That’s what she said.” Services will be held at Crowded Acres Funeral Home at 7 p.m. on Friday.

Let's see who catches on about the male Rockette thing and sharpened banana.

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