Peggy Welch remembers the day she met her future husband. She was attending a program at her church in Winter Garden, Tildenville Missionary Baptist, and the musical guest was an Orlando church choir. Willie Welch was among the singers; he caught her eye, and the two single parents hit it off, she said.
The couple married on Valentine’s Day 1994, bringing together a large family of four daughters and four sons. They enjoyed nearly 22 years of marriage before Welch’s death Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, at age 69. He was an Oakland town commissioner for more than 33 years.
“He was a sweet man,” Peggy Welch said. “Jolly, devoted, loving.”
His daughter, Desiree Thomas, said he was always there for her.
“He was caring, understanding; you could always talk to him when you needed something,” Thomas said. “He always gave good advice, (even though) you might not always want to hear it.”
A born leader
Willie Alfred Welch was born to Willie and Alice Welch on Jan. 21, 1946, in the family home, which was then located on the south side of West Colonial Drive near Tubb Street. He attended Oakland Elementary School and Charles R. Drew High School.
Welch owned a trucking company, Welch Trucking, where he was also a driver. He was known for breaking racial barriers, too, serving as the second black police officer for the city of Winter Garden and then the first black officer for the town of Oakland.
After three years as a reserve officer in Oakland, Welch turned to politics and began serving as town commissioner, including several years as vice mayor. He was passionate about maintaining Oakland’s dirt roads and staying in close contact with the residents, especially the elderly, eager to help whenever possible.
Town Hall employees and elected officials have been reminiscing about their friend:
“Willie loved Oakland and people that lived in it, and he always wanted to make things better,” Mayor Kathy Stark said. “He served Oakland long and well. He will be deeply missed by everyone, and I will personally miss him greatly.”
“Willie Welch is not only my fellow commissioner, he is my brother,” Commissioner Mike Satterfield said. “I will miss him terribly. Take care, Willie. I will see you again, and we will laugh again together like we always have.”
“Commissioner Welch was a big man with an even bigger heart,” Town Manager Dennis Foltz said. “He was a Christian, progressive-minded man who loved dearly the town in which he spent his entire life. He understood and cared for those who were underprivileged and having a hard time making it — and represented them well — but he was able to also discern and support overarching community needs. He was well respected in all parts of the community and was a great role model.”
To honor Welch’s contributions to the town, officials were planning to dedicate the pavilion in the park near Welch’s home later this year. A plaque recognizing him is ready to be placed. It reads, in part: “Welch has committed himself to the people of Oakland … assuring that all worked together for the good of the town of Oakland. Welch has consistently dedicated himself to the preservation of the ‘Old Florida’ style of Oakland while realizing that certain developmental opportunities for the future are critical to the success of the future of the town.”
The large pavilion at the park was Welch’s idea, Foltz said.
“We had originally planned to take the smaller one that was in Hull Street Park and just relocate it,” he said. “But one day he and I were talking, and he said ‘We really need a place where families can hold picnics and reunions in this park.’ We followed up and built the large pavilion, which has proven to be much used.”
Foltz added: “I feel privileged to have gotten to know him and work with him. His passing leaves a large hole in the fabric of this community that will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace — but, knowing him, he will be cheering us on from a better place.”
Welch is survived by his wife, Peggy; daughters, Desiree Thomas (and husband Eddie), of Oakland, Venus Welch and Donna Lewis (and husband David), all of Tildenville, and Shaquandra Turner (and husband William), of Apopka; sons, Willie Welch Jr., of Groveland, and Ronnie, Jonathan and Jeremiah Thornton, all of Oakland; a sister, Annie Welch Gay, of Tildenville; a brother, Douglas Welch, of Winter Garden; mother-in-law, Mary Perkins, of Albany, New York; three sisters-in-law, Sabrina Young, Patricia Welcome and Barbara Finnamon, all of Albany; eight grandchildren; several great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins.
Welch was preceded in death by his parents; two brothers, David and Charles; and a sister, Roxy Ward.
Funeral services were Saturday, Oct. 31, at Oakland Presbyterian Church. Several elected officials and friends shared reflections.
Welch was interred at Oakland-Tildenville Cemetery.Marvin C. Zanders Funeral Home, Apopka, was in charge of arrangements.
According to Oakland’s charter, the town must appoint someone to the vacant commission seat within 30 days or the governor will make the appointment. Town Manager Dennis Foltz said he expects the commission to take action at the Nov. 10 meeting. This person will fill the seat until the March 15 municipal election.
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].