Thursday, July 28, 2011

Happy 123rd Birthday, John Shaw Welch (1888-1947)!

John S. Welch's father

John Welch had great agricultural talent which he used to help the Maori people in New Zealand in the 1920s, but his future career was cut short with a lingering illness.  His son has written his biography: My Father, John Shaw Welch.

John was born in Paradise, Utah, the oldest of John and Ann's ten children. To distinguish him from his father, he was called Jack. Jack was raised on a farm and as a young boy, he herded cows all day by the river. His father was gone on a mission for several years, leaving John as the man of the house at an early age. He attended college in Logan, where he met redheaded schoolteacher Eulalia. Jack transferred to the Agricultural College of Utah (now Utah State University), majoring in Soil Chemistry, and graduated with a degree in Agriculture. He won awards for his soil research, and was hired directly from college to become the superintendent at the University of Idaho Experiment Station.  

Jack and Eulalia married in the Logan Temple in 1913, and honeymooned on Lake Pend Oreille.  They enjoyed reading together and were a loving couple. As young parents, the Welches were called on a mission to New Zealand for Jack to become the president of the Maori Agricultural College.  With their young daughter Edith, they set off for their three-year mission adventure across the globe.

passport photo: John, Edith, Eulalia Welch
In addition to running the school and maintaining a full teaching load, Jack learned Maori, and did much manual labor--everything from repairing farm machinery and planting and marketing surplus produce, to slaughtering animals for food at the school, hauling firewood, digging cesspools for sewer pipe, and burying dead horses. He conducted street meetings, proselyted as a missionary, presided over meetings and funerals, and went out into the communities as a bill collector for the school. Jack also had to help with the household washing and shopping as his wife was often ill and also had a difficult pregnancy. Sadly, their first son John was born there in New Zealand and died only a few days later of pneumonia.  Jack and Eulalia also suffered from life-threatening cases of diphtheria.

Shortly after returning home to Idaho, they had another son whom they also named John (GFW).  GFW remembers his father as a gentle man and kind father. The Welches lived in Jerome, Idaho, for several happy years, adding two new children to the family. Jack was then appointed Commissioner of Agriculture and the Welch family moved to Boise. Jack was known as a national expert on the potato industry.
3 generations of John Welches
1929 brought not only economic hardship to the country, but devastation to the Welch family personally.  That December, Jack attended a conference in Chicago, where he contracted encephalitis. There was then no known cure.  He had difficulty even returning home, and was comatose for a time.  The family tried a sea cure on the Pacific Coast, which brought some improvement the next summer. But without Jack being able to work, and with a painful and incomplete recovery ahead, the Welches retreated to family in Mendon, and eventually settled in Logan. There Jack continued to suffer from a number of health conditions, including Parkinson's disease. He lovingly tended his vegetable garden and raised prize-winning gladioli, and got to the point where he was able to do some light work.

For seventeen years Jack lived in poor health and in much poorer economic and professional circumstances than he was his original trajectory.  He was quiet, reserved, and often tired.  He didn't discuss his illness, and was known for giving wonderful prayers in Sacrament Meeting.  I am impressed by the humility and strength of character it took for him to accept this lot in life without complaint or bitterness.  He is a hero to me.

Jack brought Eulalia this beaded purse from Chicago
I would take him to see Lord of the Rings, to enjoy its New Zealand footage.


  1. i think the passport photo looks like tom pearson!

  2. Just some medical history to add to your personal story. As I understand Jack had probably influenza encephalitis with the resulting personality changes. The 1918 influenza was like nothing we have known. Not only was it incredibly fatal compared to strains of today it also had an neuro-tissue affinity leading to the brain infections with a variety of resulting complications.

    One group developed a Parkinsonian syndrome with catatonia. This was highlighted in the movie with Robin Williams, Awakening. For a short time they found a therapy which brought them out of this frozen state.

    Jack was different with a chronic fatigue, slowed cognition, and melancholia feature as I understand. The recent N1H1 scare was built on the viral similarities of 1918 compared to the H3N2 that is the usual strain. Knowing what the virus could do to an otherwise healthy bright father makes me eager to get vaccinated. The actual virus was not isolated for about 10 years afterwards; prior to that some had blamed the H. influenza bacteria that had been discovered at the same time hence the name.

    Thanks again for your regular teaching.

    Love, Joe G

  3. I'd give him modern medication.