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Woodworking Away: Lee Welch Alumnus Feature

Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018

Lee and Carol Welch in their kitchen

Lee and Carol Welch in their kitchen, where Welch made all of the wood cabinetry. Photo by Holley Stringham.

A wooden clock by Lee Welch

A wooden clock by Lee Welch. Photo Holley Stringham.

The Student Life section of Utah State Today highlights work written by the talented student journalists at Utah State University. Each week, the editor selects a story that has been published in The Utah Statesman for inclusion in Utah State Today.

By Dillan Passmore, USU Statesman, Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 

When Lee Welch, a 76 year-old Utah State University alumnus, built a new house with his wife, Welch did all of the woodwork, including coffered ceilings and the garage doors.

The new house also includes a large work space for Welch’s woodwork.

Ron Clark, a friend of Welch and fellow USU alumnus, described the work as “phenomenal” and “intricate.” Welch’s work ranges from chests and cabinets to toys and grandfather clocks crafted entirely from wood.

“The amount of work and attention to detail just to make a single gear in one of his clocks is outstanding,” Clark said.

Welch began woodworking in high school. He described his high school shop teacher as a “perfectionist” but “that was okay” because it helped him learn exactness in woodwork. Welch has had a couple of mentors in his woodworking, but for the most part has learned through experimentation and spur of the moment inspiration.

“Sometimes I’ll be sleeping at 2 a.m. and something will come to me,” Welch said, “then I can’t sleep till I do something about it.”

Lee Welch was born in Morgan County, Utah in 1941. This 76 year old Utah State University alumnus has hiked the Appalachian trail, builds original woodworks and continues to live an active and productive life.

Welch began Utah State in 1959, and eventually graduated in 1965 with a degree in Marketing and a minor in Economics and Accounting. The people he met and experiences he gained while at USU have deeply influenced his life.

Welch originally came to Utah State with the intent of becoming an engineer.

“Sputnik was up, we had the space race and I wanted to be an engineer,” Welch said, “but then I hit math, and I had come from Morgan, where the most math I had had was geometry.”

Welch then decided to become an accountant, but realized one day during his junior year that he couldn’t sit behind a desk all day. So he changed his major to marketing.

While at USU, Welch was also involved in Pi Kappa Alpha.The fraternity helped him connect to multiple people and friends in his life including Lyle Hillyard, a senator for the Utah Senate, and Quentin L. Cook, an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Welch has tried staying close to his fraternity brother throughout his life, and was the president of the Pi Kappa Alpha house corporation for 30 years.

In 1963, Welch went to serve in the Vietnam war, taking a two-year leave of absence.

Upon returning from Vietnam, Welch returned to Utah where a friend set him up on a blind date with a girl named Carol. Their first date was Thanksgiving weekend, they were engaged on Christmas and married in January, only six weeks after they initially met. Carol and Lee have been together 53 years now.

“He’s a good husband and father,” Carol said, “and he’s fun. Really fun, that’s part of the reason that I married him.”

Lee and Carol have four kids, 13 grandkids, and several great-grandchildren.

“It’s worked out so far,” Lee said, “we’re a good team.”

Upon graduating from USU, Lee was invited by a friend to come work as a used car salesman. He eventually worked his way to opening a couple of car lots, and ended his career as the owner of a Ford store in Brigham City.

Lee’s first experience in owning a business was at Utah State, where in his sophomore year he bought a drive-in frost top, similar to an A&W, for $3000, and owned and operated the establishment until his senior year. Because of the drive in, “I was the darling of the business professors,” Lee said “… it was fun and it allowed me to buy new cars during school.”

Lee was very active in the community during his working career. He served as President of the Ogden chapter of Kiwanis International in 1977 and Rotary club in 1991. He also kept basketball statistics for Weber State for 27 years, after Gordon “Dutch” Belnap, another USU alumnus, asked him to.

Upon retiring and selling his dealership, Lee was inducted into the Utah Dealer Hall of Fame. He and his wife then decided to spend some time traveling, taking a cruise to Australia and New Zealand, and eventually serving an 18-month mission for the LDS Church in Micronesia.

Before their LDS mission, Lee decided to fulfill a goal of his: hiking the Appalachian Trail. The trail stretches from Maine down to Georgia, a total of 2200 miles. Lee, 59 at this point, started on the trail and hiked an average of 18 miles a day, and finished the trail in five months.

“I’m kind of an outdoorsy guy,” Lee said.

Lee goes and talks to youth groups about the experience when asked, he draws parallels between the trail and life.

The Appalachian trail uses marker to signal to hikers they are one the right path. A trail marker is a two inches wide and six inches long white line generally painted on a tree. Lee said that as you hike you have to keep your eyes on the markers or you will divert onto one of the main trails that intercept the path, and get lost.

“The point really is, where are we looking?” Lee said. “Are we looking at the rocks and the roots? Or are we looking at the Markers?… Are we looking towards what’s important in our lives? Are we looking towards graduation in college, or a mission? What are we focusing on? If it’s only on our iPhones or what’s on Facebook, we’re probably going to get confused.”

He always challenges the youth groups he talks to set goals and avoid negativity in their lives.
Though Lee isn’t planning on hiking the Appalachian trail in the future, he still stays active by hiking over the Snowbasin each week, camping during the summer and fishing in Alaska each year.

Lee also occupies his time by golfing 5-6 times a week, being the Friends of Scouting Chairman for Mt. Ogden Boy Scout Council, visiting patients at the McKay-Dee Hospital weekly and woodworking.

Woodworking is one of Lee’s favorite hobbies.

Welch will sometimes donate his woodwork to charitable auctions, where they generally sell at several thousands of dollars. However, he makes it a rule to never work on commission.

Welch’s life has been one of ups and downs, and to current students at USU he offers the advice to find a career in something they’re passionate about.

“If you do that you’ll be success,” Welch said, “We’re rarely good at things that we don’t have a passion for. They might be good hobbies.”

Welch has seen his fair share of setbacks in his life, but he offers this sentiment,  “You’ve got to get up tomorrow and do something about it. You can’t let that be something that defines you … Get yourself up and dust yourself off.”

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