Ryan Wells

Elburn Herald Editor Named Waubonsee “Fab 40”

Waubonsee Community College has named Elburn Herald Editor Ryan Wells, seen here at the paper’s downtown Elburn office, as one of the college’s “Fabulous 40” alumni.
Sugar Grove — Elburn Herald Editor Ryan Wells understands the importance of community journalism and has dedicated his career to reporting on the news that matters to local residents. Waubonsee Community College is proud to honor Wells as one of the college’s “Fabulous 40” alumni.

As part of the college’s yearlong 40th anniversary celebration, Waubonsee is honoring 40 alumni and students who embody the mission, vision and values of the college. These individuals represent the diversity of Waubonsee’s students and the college district, as well as the diversity of the college’s mission as a comprehensive community college.

At Yorkville High School, Wells said he wasn’t the most motivated of students until his senior year in 1995 when he took a journalism class. A class assignment had Wells write a story that was submitted to the Kendall County Record.

“I had a piece published on school funding and discovered that I really liked the process,” he said. “It was the first time that I had done a project that I was so passionate about and took pride in what I was doing. That was when I knew that journalism was what I wanted to do.”

Having caught the journalism bug, Wells applied for a job at the Kendall County Record after graduating from high school. He was willing to do anything at the paper just to get his foot in the door. Soon he was offered a position with the Kendall County Record, which he promptly accepted, working on the press, as well as doing some writing and office work.

“It was fun to see the whole perspective,” he said. “I started building clips and tried to always be available.”

At the Kendall County Record, Wells worked hard and steadily made the transition to more writing assignments. Eventually, he began writing for the Elburn Herald as well, primarily covering sports, while still writing for the Kendall County Record.

Wells enrolled at Waubonsee, and in 1997, he was working professionally for the Kendall County Record and the Elburn Herald, while attending classes at Waubonsee and working for the college’s student newspaper, Insight. Although juggling going to school and working at the papers was difficult, Wells learned how to manage.

“I learned you have to budget your time and always have a plan B. I am constantly coming up with a plan B and sometimes a plan C,” he said. “I learned about project management and without that experience, there’s no way I could succeed now.”

As busy as he was at the time, Wells was able to fit in going to class with working two stressful jobs.

“Waubonsee had a flexible schedule,” he said. “It was close, convenient and affordable.”

At Waubonsee, Wells was able to hone his skills and improve his knowledge base. He found an environment where he could continue to grow.

“Having had a negative attitude toward education, I knew that I wouldn’t do well with 500 other students in a huge lecture hall,” he said. “I think that the smaller class size allows education to inspire you.”

Although he was working as a professional journalist, Wells still found inspiration working for Waubonsee’s student newspaper, especially in the form of Insight Adviser Lori Buffum.

“I translated what I was learning to the professional world and vice versa,” he said. “I was able to see the whole process — planning and working with the staff. It furthered my motivation to improve myself as a person and as a professional.”

Wells served as the paper’s business manager and helped out with the writing, editing and layout duties.

“Working at Insight really showed me that if you had the motivation and confidence to accomplish something, you can make the best product you can make,” he said. “It’s an attitude you have to have.”

Waubonsee aided Wells in clarifying his life goals.

“I came out of Waubonsee a completely different person than I went in,” he said. “Waubonsee played that role, facilitating me to change my personal direction. Before Waubonsee, I was the kid who sat in the back of the class. After, I wanted to learn more, and the instructors helped me figure out how to do that. You have to learn how to learn. That was why I came to Waubonsee, and why I had such a great experience.”

Because he was already working in his chosen profession, Wells saw Waubonsee as furthering his professional development.

“Waubonsee helped me along a path I had just begun to look at,” he said. “I had started in that direction, but Waubonsee allowed me to walk through a lot of doors. It gave me the tools to get there. Once I was able to pick a direction, I began to look at everything as a learning opportunity.”

At Waubonsee, Wells began to develop an unwavering “can-do” attitude.

“There were difficult situations like working three jobs, but you don’t really know what’s possible until you try,” he said. “If you set a ceiling, you will never exceed that ceiling. I try to look at everything as if there is no limit.”

After leaving Waubonsee, Wells was working full-time at the Elburn Herald. His career there has been marked by steady promotions. He has served as assistant sports editor, sports editor, assistant editor and has been the paper’s editor since 2002. More recently, his duties expanded from that of the editorial side of the paper to overseeing all functions of the organization.

Under Wells’ leadership, the Elburn Herald, which celebrates its 100th anniversary next year, has seen its circulation continue to grow. Wells has led the paper to expand its special guides and sections. The paper also recently launched an expanded Web site.

Working at a newspaper whose focus is on community journalism, Wells follows those principles and makes a point to visit Kaneland High School’s journalism class every semester to talk about the life of a professional newsman.

“I really think that community journalism is one of the most important roles in the journalism industry,” he said. “With the way that the world is changing with technology, the potential for disconnect is high. The community newspaper helps tie the community together.”

This commitment to local news plays out in the paper’s pages each week.

“Local politics and news affects people’s lives daily,” he said. “The effect of national news is more subtle and can take time to trickle down to the local level.”

Wells and his wife, Natalie, who is a hospice nurse with Provena Mercy, live in Plano with their two children, 15-month-old Ryan Jr. and newborn Cayden.

“I’m most proud of my family,” he said. “I know that you have to have your priorities in order. This organization has made that possible to have a work/life balance. In situations where I can help shape policies, I keep that a priority.” Wells is currently working to complete his bachelor’s degree from the University of Phoenix in business management, which he expects to complete in December.