BROOKSVILLE — The Rev. Irene Wells was well loved. Every seat was filled at both a wake and "home-going service" a week after her death on Jan. 21. She was 75.
On Jan. 28, there was standing room only at the service at Grace World Outreach Church, presided over by Bishop Alvin Stewart. Mrs. Wells' son, Lester White, gave the eulogy, and son-in-law Willie Adkins spoke words of comfort to Mrs. Wells' family and friends.
"When we pulled in, the church was already packed," said Marcus Wells, 33, a grandson who was reared by Mrs. Wells and her husband and fellow minister of 54 years, Riley Wells Jr. "There were 1,500-plus people waiting for us to get there. There were people who had to stand outside."
The evening before, a wake and viewing was held at the church Mrs. Wells pastored in Hernando County for almost 40 years, New Jerusalem Church of God Twin Lake. Mrs. Wells also pastored New Jerusalem Church of God in Chiefland, preaching two Sundays at each church every month.
Marcus Wells said there were about 500 people at the wake.
Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis attended at the invitation of Wells' grandson and while there was asked to speak a few words of encouragement.
"There were a lot of good people who were hurting," Nienhuis said. "They're going to miss her, and she cared very deeply about the souls in her community, so it was the very least I could do."
The response was positive, which was uplifting to him, Nienhuis said.
"It was definitely a celebration of life. I think everybody in the church was confident that she was going to be with her Lord," he said.
Wells confirmed that sentiment, saying both services were a time of rejoicing that his grandmother is in heaven.
"It was a great thing being her grandson," Wells said. "She imparted a lot into us about how to treat people, the way you act, the way you carry yourself. She taught us to love people and told us the way you treat people will go a long way and get you far in life."
Wells earliest memory of his grandmother is of sitting next to her in the car as they traveled to Chiefland to conduct church services there.
"I used to be the smallest thing in church," Wells said, laughing. "I sat right beside her, traveling to different conferences and such."
Along with pastoring two churches and rearing her children and a grandson, Mrs. Wells was the presiding elder for her denomination in Pasco, Orange and Gadsden counties and the state superintendent for Florida, Georgia and Alabama. She was named the community pastor of Hernando and Levy counties. For more than 40 years on Tuesdays, she led an outdoor prayer outreach on Twigg Street in Brooksville.
She is survived by her husband, who will assume pastoral duties at the Twin Lake church, her son and four daughters, 22 grandchildren, numerous great-grandchildren and a brother.
First Fridays, a gospel presentation at the Brooksville Common each month, dedicated its Feb. 3 event to an old-fashioned gospel concert given in Pastor Wells' memory.
"She's been such an icon in the community and one who was supportive of the people," said Pastor Dell Barnes, who organized the event. "She's given so much that I felt we should do something in the open that would really bring the attention to her and what she had done."
On a banner at the memorial church services were the words "May the work I've done speak for me."
Wells said those are the words his grandmother lived by.
"Everything she did in life spoke volumes to many people," he said. "The quote she most often used was, 'Talk to one another and not about one another, because love is what it does.' She always stressed about how to treat each other with love."