Born in Canada in 1918, Wells moved to Boise in 1930. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who has ever known more about this state. He graduated from Boise High School, Boise Junior College, and the College of Idaho before leaving the state to get a PhD in history at Berkeley.
Merle Wells got a job with the Idaho State Historical Society in about 1947. It became a calling for him. He retired in 1987 but never really quit working for them. He drafted the law creating a state archives—the research center at the archives is now named after him. He set up the state historic preservation office. He wrote or co-wrote several books on Idaho history and the text for most of those highway signs.
I got to know Merle a little after I got the contract to write more than 200 scripts and produced the Idaho Centennial radio series, “Idaho Snapshots.” The Centennial Commission, in their wisdom, asked Merle to review and approve the scripts before they aired statewide.
For years Wells was a familiar figure riding around Boise on his blue women’s bicycle, often in his suit. The Idaho State Historical Society has found many ways to honor him. One of my favorites was when they displayed that bicycle in an exhibit at the Idaho State Historical Museum.
Merle W. Wells died in 2000, an indelible part of Idaho history himself.
By the way, the historical markers Merle created are about to undergo a major upgrade and update. I predict that they will still feature many of his words.