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Real Estate Community Rallies Around Wells

Ray Wells can still remember the first time he laid eyes on May Gonzalez. The year was 2003, and he was a seasoned manager at Dilbeck Real Estate, emceeing a Pasadena-Foothills Association of Realtors board meeting when an unfamiliar blond agent stood up to pitch her listing.
“I saw her and it was like boom-boom-boom — ‘I’ve got to meet her,’” recalled Wells, who began charming the recently licensed Gonzalez with his unmistakable sense of humor at various board fundraising events in the months that followed.
“He was always cracking just hysterical jokes,” said Gonzalez.
After a year of courtship, the two local real estate agents went out on their first date, and eventually decided to join the same brokerage. Currently operating as a team under the Teles Properties brand, the personal partnership and business partnership between Wells and Gonzalez has thrived during the past decade.
But the nostalgia of those early days and the countless other memories that the couple have shared suddenly mean so much more, especially to Gonzalez. She is the one who will be able to cherish them forever. Wells, 56, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in February. There is no cure for the aggressive brain disease.
Gonzalez began to notice disconcerting lapses in Wells’ judgment around the holidays last year. He had trouble grocery shopping, remembering his way home from work and operating his iPhone. Simple household activities like changing the cat litterbox and making coffee became a burden.
“All of a sudden, it was like ‘OK, try to remember how to do this’ and just getting frustrated to the point where I’m banging my hand on the carpet,” Wells said while sitting next to Gonzalez at their dining room table on a recent morning.
A visit to the doctor resulted in an appointment with a neurologist, who administered a cognitive test that Wells failed. The neurologist knew what this meant, but it wasn’t until a subsequent blood test, MRI and lumbar puncture that the sobering suspicion was confirmed.
Since joining forces, Wells and Gonzalez have sold roughly 200 properties together in the local community. Although Wells can no longer drive, he still remains an active participant in business dealings alongside Gonzalez.
“It’s still relevant for him to meet with clients, but as far as directing the meetings and making the decisions related to the properties, it’s pretty much me,” said Gonzalez. “Ray’s not making decisions like that anymore.”
One decision that Wells did make was to throw out the first pitch at a Dodgers’ game last month on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association. His father had played minor-league baseball and even spent time in Hawaii during World War II entertaining troops with Hall-of-Famer Joe DiMaggio.
“It was such a bucket-list thing,” Wells said. “It was sort of crazy. I remember at the time just looking up at the stars and going ‘Hey, Dad, you see this? Wow, who would have thought?’”
The couple shares a similar sentiment when checking the progress of “Team Ray,” a fundraising effort that Gonzalez has spearheaded in advance of the Oct. 15 San Gabriel Valley Walk to End Alzheimer’s. What began with a goal of $2,000 has now garnered more than $20,000 in community donations, the majority coming from colleagues in the real estate business. The money supports care, research and advocacy through the Alzheimer’s Association.
“It’s overwhelming how much support has been showered on me,” Wells said. “It feels, honestly, underserved. But it’s really been enormous and I can’t even begin to thank everyone for everything.”
Meanwhile, real estate colleagues Roland Wilhelm of Partners Trust and Michael Darling of deasy/penner&partners have incorporated Wells into their annual motorcycle ride for charity. The pair is currently in the home stretch of a roundtrip journey through the Canadian Rockies. They brought a cardboard cutout of Wells’ head on the “Ride for Ray” as a way to foster awareness for their friend, and a GoFundMe page associated with the cause has raised more than $38,000 to help offset Gonzalez’s caregiving costs.
Others have also stepped in on a more personal level with Wells, who requires 24-hour supervision these days — the bulk of which falls to Gonzalez. Several of Wells’ college friends routinely take him out to go bowling or spend a day at the Santa Anita racetrack. Remaining social is an important therapy for Alzheimer’s patients.
“We’re just trying to connect with him as often as we can, time permitting,” said Steve Apostolina, who has known Wells for more than 30 years. “It’s a valuable thing for everybody involved because I doubt you can find a person in this world that has an ill thing to say about Ray. He’s one of the nicest, kindest gentle giants I’ve ever met.”
“When we get together, it’s just like old times.”
While Gonzalez appreciates the respite, she hopes to continue what has become a new weekly tradition. Every Monday, the couple visits the Huntington Library to have lunch and stroll through the gardens. These small dates carry added significance with each passing day that the progressive illness afflicts Wells, who is still able to maintain a sense of humor as Gonzalez sits beside him at the table discussing the painful inevitability of what’s to come.
“Another cheery day,” Wells said sarcastically before taking a moment to reflect more deeply on his journey.
“I think, for the most part, I’ve progressed through this in a reasonable way and I’m grateful that there’s the camaraderie of the various agents and brokers, and thank God for May being there. It makes all the difference.”
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