For the last four weeks, StoryCorps’ East MobileBooth was in Bellefonte, a charming Victorian town of 7,000 in Central Pennsylvania. We had local historians, music instructors, local farmers, and even members of Bellefonte’s Borough Council come and share their stories. In fact, thanks to the wide geographic reach of our local radio partner, WPSU, we enjoyed having participants from all parts of the region.
Two of these participants are sisters Jessica Welch and Jennifer Theiss. Last week, they came into our booth to honor the life of their father, former State College Mayor William Welch, who passed away on September 4th, 2009. Mr. Welch was Mayor from 1994 until his death, winning his last re-election in 2007. Before being Mayor, he served four years as a State College councilman. He was a graduate of Penn State University and lived most of his life in the area.
Ms. Welch and Mrs. Theiss did not come to honor their father’s career in public service. They came to remember him as a family man with baby blue eyes, suspenders, and a Panama hat. Mr. Welch was an avid reader who took great pride in being perceived as intelligent. He was a friendly neighbor to Mrs. Theiss’s family. He was a devoted football fan (some of Ms. Welch’s most cherished memories are of watching football on her dad’s couch). And he was a very, very devoted – and well-dressed – stamp collector. When Mrs. Theiss was fourteen years old, he took her to a philately convention in Reno. Just a few years ago, accompanied by Ms. Welch, he attended an international convention in Colombia, where his collection received an award that Mr. Welch displayed proudly in his home.
Perhaps the thing Mr. Welch’s daughters remember him most for is his positivity. Mr. Welch’s kidneys failed sixteen years ago, and Ms. Welch donated one of her kidneys to save his life. His health continued to deteriorate over time, but, according to his daughters, he maintained an unwavering optimism. “I never heard him complain once,” said Mrs. Theiss.
In honor their father, the sisters planned to stay home and watch Penn State’s college football season opener, just like their father would have done.