Politicians remember influence Welch had on their careers
Friends of the late state Sen. Patrick Welch shared memories of his public and personal life Jan. 19 during a remembrance memorial gathering at Starved Rock Lodge.
Welch, who represented most of LaSalle and Bureau counties in the 38th District from 1983 to 2004, died Jan. 7 at the age of 71 from complications of a stroke.
The longtime Peru Democrat, who went on during the last years of his long political career to serve as the assistant majority leader, was remembered during the event as a brilliant legislator and a kind man.
Welch’s good friend, Steve Massey, helped organize the event that brought dozens to the lodge for the Sunday afternoon event.
“The days we had with Pat have passed, but we are here today to remember how he touched our lives and served his community,” Massey said. “We are here to remind people of all the hard work Pat did for the community and state during his years of service in the state Senate. I was proud to have been his friend for more than four decades.”
Chicago-born Welch received his law degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology/Kent College of Law and, for a time, had a private practice in Peru. Turning to politics, Welch first unseated Republican Betty Hoxsey in what was long a Republican-friendly district in 1982, but then he went on to be re-elected six more times.
Following a Senate election defeat by Putnam County businessman Gary Dahl in 2004, Welch became the Illinois Department of Revenue assistant director in 2005, a post he held until his retirement in 2009.
Jan Czarnik was Welch’s long-time companion who spoke of him “as a shy person.”
“Pat always said he succeeded in politics because he really wanted it,” Czarnik said. “That is true.”
Upon learning of Welch’s passing, Senate President John Cullerton recently said: “It’s with a heavy heart that I express my deepest condolences to the family and friends of my former colleague Pat Welch. He was a man with the savvy and the determination to be a true, principled public servant to the people he represented.
“Pat was a fighter for his ideals,” Cullerton added. “He left behind a legislative legacy of equal pay for equal work, environmental protection and investment in local infrastructure. The Pat Welch I had the honor of serving with is the sort of person we speak of when we talk about statesmanship. He will be dearly missed.”
LaSalle County Board member and former State Rep. Tom Walsh remembered Welch as a dedicated environmentalist.
“I worked closely with Pat on environmental issues here in our community and throughout the state,” recalled Walsh. “He had a great understanding of the district and what was needed to be done for the protection of the environment. We were always on the same page on legislation matters.”
John Welch, of Boston, also spoke affectionately about his brother.
“When we were kids on the south side of Chicago, we were hell on wheels,” John said. “He was always a lot of fun. Back in those days, I would have never believed that he would enter politics. He was an ordinary guy who liked people and wanted to help them. My brother had a strong sense of commitment.”
Former U.S. representative and one-time state Sen. Debbie Halverson recalled the encouragement advice Pat gave her during her various political campaigns.
“Pat cared. You could always count on him. He got the job done,” she said.
Appellate Judge and former state Rep. Mary Kay O’Brien praised Pat as her political mentor.
“He was the voice in my ear to inspire me during my campaigns,” O’Brien said. “Pat always pulled everyone along with him. He stood up for all of us and helped us work as a team.”
Offering condolences to the family, Circuit Judge Gene Daugherity recalled how Pat supported his judicial campaign.
“He was kind and gracious to let me ride his coattails (around the county) when I first was running for judge,” Daugherity said. “He was great. And, for a thin man, the guy had an empty well for a stomach (as proven during meals) in our many campaign stops.”
Former Ottawa Mayor Robert Eschbach said Pat was a legislator who did his homework and was always prepared.
“I called him Santa Welch instead of senator because he always delivered for his community,” Eschbach said. “He was smart, principled and knew how to work (the state house) in Springfield. We are a better community because of Pat Welch.”
Beyond politics, Pat was also recognized as a loving father and grandfather.
Family friend Melissa Hetherington told the mourners, “Pat had a love for his grandkids. He was a wonderful grandfather and those grandchildren were a huge part of his life.”
Two of Welch’s former colleagues, Mary Whipple, of Utica, and David Piccioli, of Springfield. who could not attend Sunday’s memorial, also shared memories of working with Welch.
Whipple said: “I had the privilege of serving as senior aide to Sen. Patrick Welch from 1986-1990. Sen. Welch was a statesman. I often told him he made a much better legislator than a politician. Pat never cared much for the politics of Springfield. His passion was creating and improving upon legislation that would benefit the people of his district and the state of Illinois. Pat was never afraid to be the one and only ‘no’ vote on a bill regardless of who sponsored it if he thought it was a bad piece of legislation.”
Whipple said Pat Welch loved being a state senator.
“However, he loved being a father even more,” she said. “His son Danny was his treasure, and that’s where Pat’s heart always was, with Danny, and then with his grandchildren. I hope Pat and Danny are together again, with Bonnie, in a place where there are no politics, only happiness and peace of mind.”
Piccioli covered most of Welch’s local political career as a LaSalle-Peru News Tribune reporter and remained close friends with him when both of them worked in Springfield.
“When I started my career with state government in Springfield, state Sen. Patrick Welch took me under his wing as a mentor and friend,” Piccioli said. “Pat introduced me to many of the political players at the Capitol and even introduced me to the woman, Linda, who became my wife.”
“I joined Pat’s 1986 campaign when powerful media forces tried to defeat him, but he won. It was one of the happiest days of my life, with a great victory party at the Hotel Kaskaskia in LaSalle on election night,” Piccioli said. “I can still see Pat standing on a chair, reciting the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s play Henry V: ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.’ ”
Holding back tears, Massey closed the memorial with simple words for his lost friend.
“Pat will be missed.”