Wellsburg Wellness Program Lifts Health in West Virginia

With support from a $4 million investment, Bayer Company's wellness program has been a great success in Wellsburg, WV.

| January/February 1989

  • wellness program - water aerobics class
    Bayer's wellness program initiated a number of exercise and fitness activities, such as this water aerobics class.

  • wellness program - water aerobics class

Step through the doorway of the Bayer Wellness office right at 12 p.m. and, the next thing you know, you’ll be headed right back out on the “Noon Exercise Walk.” While trim Dr. Bill Reger, the head coach (i.e., wellness program director), cheerfully dispenses such advice as “Eat fat, get fat,” you’ll pace briskly through the town, caught up in conversation about cholesterol levels and optimum pulse rates.

You’ve found Wellness, W.Va. Excuse me, Wellsburg , W.Va. Eleven thousand people live in this town, wedged in the wild, wonderful northern panhandle between the Ohio River on the west and Pennsylvania’s mountains on the east. Wellsburg’s a factory town — glass, steel, plastic fuel cans, Pillsbury flour bags, and even McDonald’s Happy Meals boxes are cranked out by people working “turns” in the riverside mills. It’s a football town — the Brooke High Bruins fans often outnumber the opposition’s supporters at away games. (The school has a new half stadium, with press box, full facilities and seats for almost 3,000 fans on the Bruins’ side, and a few bleachers and four portable toilets for the visitors.) It’s also a bit of a tourist town with a recently renovated historic town plaza and summer steamboats and tour buses.

Last spring, Wellsburg welcomed a surprising new industry into its midst: health. Like the unseen rich donor on the old “Millionaire” TV show, the Bayer Company had been looking to bequeath a large gift. Bayer’s target: a small town with both bad health and good community spirit. Wellsburg had both. West Virginia is second only to Iowa in heart-disease deaths, yet — along with Bruin fever — the city has several volunteer organizations and a very strong sense of civic pride.

Add in a serendipitous name (the city is named after Bezaleal Wells, son of its founder), and the company had found the perfect recipient for its unique present: the $4 million Bayer Wellness Program.

“In three months, I’ve lost nine pounds and dropped my pulse from 90 to 70, and my cholesterol level has gone from 273 to 185.”

In cowboy hat and Nike sneakers, Merle Wesley is a regular noon walker. Like everyone involved in the town’s wellness program, Merle will tell you his cholesterol level quicker than singles-bar patrons once recited their astrology signs.

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