Every morning, when Carl “Geno” Wells wakes up in his apartment and looks in the bathroom mirror, he sees a man whose body is severely scarred from a fire five years ago.
The top of his head is bald because no hair can grow there, and the scar tissue limits the feelings in his arms, legs, and hands.
Still, Wells believes he’s blessed.
“God thank you for letting me be here,” he says daily. “I do have a purpose to be here. All of us have a purpose to be here.”
“Being happy for everybody,” he said.
So Wells, 62, rides his three-speed black bike — a gift from a friend — from his Butler County Metropolitan Housing Authority apartment on South Clinton Street to the United Dairy Farmers on North Verity Parkway.
At 7:30 a.m., he walks inside UDF, refills his 20-ounce cup with coffee and eight creams, then takes his normal spot outside. Every day, regardless of the weather, Wells can be found standing a few feet from the door.
He’s a UDF greeter — a downtown character, really — and his rewards can’t be measured by money. He receives smiles, handshakes and hugs from customers, what he called “all that good stuff.”
After taking his post, Wells, his gray hair and beard blowing in the cool morning air, directs traffic in the crowded lot, opens doors for women, alerts managers if someone is panhandling outside and constantly chatters. Customers are more familiar with this man than a UDF sundae.
“Have a good day, man,” Wells says.
“It’s gonna be a beautiful morning,” he says to a female customer a few minutes later. “It’s already a beautiful day.”
“Have a good day brother,” he repeats several times.
His goal is simple: Make every day better for someone. Everyone.
“I’m a people person,” he said. “I show respect and I get respect back. It makes me feel good.”
Just then, Wells spotted a customer approaching. “Have a great day, guy.”
He never missed a beat.
“I see some people come in here without a smile,” he said. “I’ll make them smile before they leave. Somehow, some way, I’ll get them to smile. They don’t have to say too much. I know when they’re having a bad day.”
He paused, the Mayor of UDF did, looked toward the parking lot and added: “It’s all love. If we could just spread that around the world would be a great place to live. That’s just the way I am. There is more good in this world than a lot of people realize.”
Wells, who has been divorced three times, has five grown children and he’s not sure how many grandchildren. At least eight, he said. He was born in West Virginia before his father moved the family to Dayton. Wells was homeless for a few years there until he moved to Middletown to be closer to his daughter and grandchildren.
And for that, the UDF customers are thankful.
“I have had a good life,” he said.
It got even better when Rickita Moon walked from her car to the front door and gave Wells a big hug. A few minutes later, she left the store and admitted she always knew him by his face, not his first name. But she loves him, she said.
“He’s awesome,” Moon said. “He just brings joy. He brings light.”
Moon said she shops at UDF several times a day, and she looks forward to seeing Wells.
“When he’s not here, I wonder did something happen,” she said. “It’s always a joy to see him here.”
It’s nothing short of a miracle that Wells is alive today.
On Nov. 17, 2012, he was living in a trailer in the Catalina Manufactured Home Community when it caught fire and soon was engulfed in flames. Wells said he thought the woman he was living with was trapped inside, so he searched for her. Then, after he heard the woman was safe, he went back inside to rescue her cat.
“I wanted to save a life, not lose a life,” he said.
Wells suffered second- and third-degree burns over 45 percent of his body and endured numerous skin grafts. He was in ICU at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton for six weeks, then in a step-down unit for several months. He eventually lived at Garden Manor Retirement Village until he moved into a Middletown apartment.
One of his children, Amanda Wells, 35, remembers seeing her father — an American flag wrapped around his naked body — walking out of the trailer in the middle of the night. His skin was “melting off him,” she said.
“He’s a fighter,” his daughter said.
She said it’s good that her father gets out of the apartment and interacts with people. He couldn’t make a difference in his apartment. He does at UDF.
“I see all the things he went through and it’s great that he’s still here,” she said.