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Compassionate caregivers inspire Denise and Norm Wells to endow first Summa urology chair

This story originally appeared in the Summer 2020 edition of Promise magazine.

When asked what inspires their giving to Summa Health, Denise and Norm Wells both readily credit their Summa caregivers. 

“I’ve been a patient at Summa, and the level of care was extraordinary. I am confident that same level of care is extended to everyone who comes through Summa’s doors,” explained Norm. “I don’t think I’ve seen a more committed, focused group of people than the caregivers I’ve met at Summa Health.”

That grateful spirit, coupled with a desire to give back to the Akron community, led Denise and Norm to devote considerable time, expertise and financial support to Summa Health through the years.

Over the last decade, Norm has given back to Summa as a board member and chair of the foundation, a system board member, then system board chair from 2012 to 2014. Denise has served as a Marie Lawson Society member in the Summa Foundation Circle of Women’s Health Philanthropists and as the first chair of the Summa Health Seniors Institute Leadership Council

“Denise and I fundamentally believe that healthcare in this country needs strong community support,” said Norm. “For us, our time and financial investments in Summa were the perfect choice.”

Norm’s leadership role was an important one in Summa Health’s recent history. He served as system board chair during a tumultuous time as healthcare systems across the nation transitioned to a new healthcare model. 

“When I took on the chairman role on the system board, it turned out to be more challenging than I had ever imagined it to be,” said Norm. “What we learned during that period is that it’s all about giving each patient the best possible care and for that you need clinically excellent and compassionate caregivers. We know so many caregivers at Summa who are phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal.” 

Summa Health urologists Joseph Dankoff, M.D., and Kevin Spear, M.D., are counted in that distinguished group.

“We’ve known them for nearly 20 years while watching their practice grow and knowing what their dedication means to this community,” said Norm. “We applaud Dr. Spear, Dr. Dankoff and the entire urology team at Summa Health for consistent, compassionate delivery of clinical excellence.”

To that end, Denise and Norm recently added to their legacy of support with a generous gift of $1.5 million to establish Summa Health’s first endowed chair in urology in the doctors’ honor. An endowed chair in urology will provide long-lasting support for innovative patient care, groundbreaking research and professional education for generations to come. 

“Denise and Norm’s gift is really a testament of their generosity to Summa Health and the community,” said Dr. Spear. “This is a big moment for the urology department and an honor for Summa Health that will provide long-term stability and resources for decades. We are deeply grateful for their generosity.”

Legacy of Gratitude

In addition to urology, this philanthropic couple quietly has provided significant support for Summa nurses, hospice and palliative care, and the Summa Health Cancer Institute.

“Norm and I come from very humble beginnings. We worked really hard and have done a lot of moving around. We look at everything we built as a blessing that really isn’t ours. It’s ours to take care of until someone else needs it,” said Denise.

In 1970, the couple met through a mutual friend at the University of Washington. Norm graduated the following year with two engineering degrees. In Seattle, Boeing had recently laid off thousands, so the newlyweds headed east for a job opportunity in Virginia. They moved several times, crisscrossing the country, before calling Akron home in 1990. 

“We started with college loans and a 4x6 U-Haul and headed across the country to our first job. And, here we are today, more thankful than you can imagine. Along the way, we recognized the need to give back,” said Norm.

The couple models this same spirit of philanthropy for their two children and their spouses — Todd and Christina Wells and Suzanne and Colin Kinney — along with their four grandchildren — Olivia, Maya, Everett and Charlie

“It’s important to the two of us to walk the talk,” said Norm. “We want to lead by example and hope that we can be an inspiration to our children, grandchildren and the community.” Three generations of the Wells family gather every Christmas to volunteer their time, assembling bikes gifted to thousands of children in Akron. 

“The legacy my parents are leaving for us is a big one,” said Suzanne. “It feels lofty at times because of all the incredible work that they do. But we’re certainly up for the challenge and eager to carry on the work as they move on to other stages of their lives.”

Their love of family and gratitude for physicians led Denise and Norm to make several meaningful gifts to Summa Health over the years. Giving back to the Acute Palliative Care Unit in 2006 ­­— their first gift to Summa Health — was a very personal experience for the couple. The terminal illnesses of both of their fathers made them realize firsthand how vital a comprehensive, family-centered palliative care service is to the community. 

“Our fathers had very different end-of-life experiences. Unfortunately, there was no palliative care available for Norm’s father. It was hard on the family and hard on his father,” said Denise. “Then Summa builds an incredible palliative care wing that took our breath away. After getting to know the caregivers in that wing, it seemed like the right opportunity for us to support Summa Health.”

Perfect Timing

The couple believes Summa Health’s best story still is being written. 

“When we were presented with an opportunity to establish an endowed chair in urology, we knew the timing was right for us,” said Norm. 

He credits Cliff Deveny, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Summa Health, for his leadership as well as Summa’s caregivers for taking the healthcare system to the next level. With the building of the new patient tower, Behavioral Health Pavilion and other key initiatives, Norm is confident that the future of the health system will be “nothing short of world-class.”

“Summa doesn’t turn anyone away. If you need healthcare, Summa is going to take care of you in a comprehensive and dignified way.”

Denise agrees the timing is perfect. “Summa Health has benefited our family for decades, and we want to ensure that it will benefit our community for years to come. Nothing gives us greater joy.”

That spirit of gratitude will live on in perpetuity as The Denise G. and Norman E. Wells Jr. Endowed Chair in Urology in Honor of Joseph Dankoff, M.D., and Kevin Spear, M.D. Dr. Spear is the first chair holder.

Donor-supported chairs at Summa Health

  • Vincent and Nancy DiGirolamo Endowed Chair in Oncology, held by the medical director of the Summa Health Cancer Institute
  • Jim and Vanita Oelschlager Endowed Chair in Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, held by Joseph Varley, M.D.
  • Jim and Vanita Oelschlager Chair in Traumatic Stress, held by Patrick Palmieri, Ph.D.
  • Vivian E. von Gruenigen, M.D., Endowed Chair in Obstetrics and Gynecology, held by Edward Ferris, M.D.
  • Denise G. and Norman E. Wells Jr. Endowed Chair in Urology in Honor of Joseph Dankoff, M.D., and Kevin Spear, M.D., held by Dr. Spear

Interested in establishing an endowment? Contact Phylis Ferrara at 234.312.5888 or


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