As Tustin wishing well celebrates its 40th birthday, people honor its 'quiet, inspirational' message of friendship

The Tustin wishing well, a monument erected to "wish well to everyone," turned 40 this summer.

Erected in 1976 in honor of the U.S. bicentennial, the wishing well was spearheaded by Mary Kelly, owner of Kelly's Cards and Gifts in Tustin. She died two years ago at age 87.

"My mother was a Philadelphia native, and when she came to California, she didn't feel a real warmth from fellow citizens," said Greg Kelly, one of Mary Kelly's sons and former owner of the now-closed Kelly's Hobby Shop. "She felt it was a very needed message to erect something, and a well was the perfect message to do that, especially a wishing well to everyone."

Getting it built was "a total grassroots effort," according to Kelly. The city agreed to donate land for the monument — it sits on the southeast corner of the Tustin Civic Center grounds, near the entrance to the Police Department — and match Kelly's fundraising efforts.

The well cost $10,000, so the Kellys raised half, mostly from neighbors and local business owners, while the city pitched in the other half.

"A friend made these small wishing wells out of wood that people could put coins in," said Kelly. "So people contributed coins in those little miniature wells."

The monument was dedicated on July 4, 1976.

This summer, Tustin commemorated the wishing well's 40th anniversary by offering an official proclamation.

"They have achieved the theme of 'wishing well to everyone' from the start," Tustin Mayor John Nielson said about the Kelly family. "It was started by Mary Kelly in hopes of spreading the message and encompassing an anxiety-torn world with quiet, inspirational messages of friendship."

Greg Kelly, who has since moved to Minnesota, remembers what the well meant to people.

"I would drive by and see people just sitting there," said Kelly. "You don't know where they are in their lives, but it made them happy to sit there.

"It's a rallying point for people of all persuasions to come together and to lay down their differences."

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Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil, caitlin.kandil@latimes.com

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