Documentary focuses on life of Oakland businessman, philanthropist A.E. Wells
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Documentary focuses on life of Oakland businessman, philanthropist A.E. Wells

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Oakland is set to honor its past and celebrate its future on Memorial Day weekend.

The small town, 30 miles north of Fremont, is set to host a variety of events to celebrate its 150th year anniversary next month that include a concert by award-winning country band Sawyer Brown, parade, fireworks, barbecue, quilt show, tractor and car show, and the burial of a time capsule.

But one event, being held nearly a month before the official Oakland 150th celebration, aims to give area residents a look into the history of the community through the story of one of its prominent early citizens.

Two showings of a new documentary, titled “A.E. Wells: A Man and his Park” are set for April 28-29 in the Oakland Auditorium.

The documentary, directed and produced by current Oakland resident Donnie Dodge, focuses on the life of A.E. Wells who lived in Oakland around the turn of the 20th century.

“A.E. Wells was a gentleman that was born in Wisconsin and he fought in the Civil War; He had to travel halfway around the world on a steamship at the age of 12 with his 10-year-old brother,” Dodge said. ”He came into an enormous amount of wealth through a lot of personal loss in his life and he ended up in Oakland, Nebraska, in the late 1880s where he founded a bank.”

Along with being a prominent business owner in Oakland, Wells also used some of his personal fortune to build a park in the town which was called Wells Park.

“He built a park in the late 1800s as a memorial and it stood there for quite a few years,” Dodge said.

Dodge’s venture into the life of Wells came when he began researching the history of Oakland for a series of short documentaries he was putting together for the Oakland 150th celebration.

While researching for his series of short documentaries, Dodge kept coming across a place in Oakland called Wells Park.

“So I just started doing research on it and I became very interested in it because everybody I talked to around Oakland knew of the park, but didn’t really know anything about it,” he said. “They didn’t know why it was there, or who built it, or where it was at. So being a huge history buff I took that as a challenge to find out as much as I could about the park and as much as I could about the man that built it.”

Dodge poured through archives of old newspapers from the Oakland Independent and Oakland Republican at the local library to create a timeline that would eventually become the backbone for his new documentary “A.E. Wells: A Man and his Park.”

“The library did a fantastic job of archiving all of the old newspapers from the Oakland Independent and the Oakland Republican all the way back to 1881,” he said. “I found myself with three or four legal pads full of information and was able to put together a timeline.”

That timeline was put into a 28-page script by Dodge and his wife, and paired down to create the 30-minute-long documentary.

Although Dodge has experience with video production through his company Dodge Well Productions, the new documentary is his first foray into the historical documentary filmmaking.

“For this to be my first venture into documentary filmmaking is really special and exciting for me,” he said. “I’m just hoping everyone likes it and learns as much as I did when they see it.”

The premiere of the documentary was scheduled for April 14-15, but the spring snow storm that blew through Oakland last week led to the showings to be moved to April 28-29.

General admission tickets to the showings on Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon are $8 and VIP tickets are $18 and come with several perks. The showing on Saturday begins at 7 p.m. and there will be a matinee showing on Sunday at 1 p.m.

VIP ticket holders will be able to get in the doors early for both showings and with the ticket will get to enjoy free wine and appetizers, have a look at an A.E. Wells display, and will receive several gifts.

“You get a small refrigerator magnet and the first 50 people in the door get a free scarlet oak tree courtesy of the Arbor Day Foundation to plant here in Oakland,” Dodge said.

VIP ticket holders also will get a chance to take a photo in front of the fountain that stood in Wells Park during the turn of the 20th century.

“I figured out a way to use a green screen so that everyone that comes for the VIP party will get their picture taken and then be superimposed in front of the giant fountain that used to be in Wells Park,” Dodge said. “So it’s like you are visiting Wells Park in 1895.”

Along with providing moviegoers with plenty of perks, event proceeds will be going toward a good cause with 100 percent of proceeds going to the Burt County Relay For Life.

“Every nickel will be going to Relay For Life,” Dodge said. “As you watch the documentary, it is going to become very obvious why I chose Relay For Life, it has a very good tie in to this charity. I also have had some personal connections with losing people from cancer recently and I just want to be able to give back.”

Dodge encourages those interested in purchasing VIP tickets to do so as soon as possible, because only a few remain. Tickets to either showing can be purchased online at dodgewell.com or at Nelson Food Pride in Oakland.

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