Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | The Rev. Clarence Welch

Called to teach or preach, Pastor Clarence Welch chose both

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rev. Clarence Welch believed he had two callings, teaching and his ministry.

Somehow, he followed both for decades.

Rev. Welch taught science at what is now John Hopkins Middle School and Azalea Middle School for 29 years.

He also led Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ, where he grew up with a well-known family beside him in the pews.

He served as superintendent of a church district stretching from Bartow to Fort Myers, but barely mentioned it and asked friends to refer to him simply as "Elder."

Rev. Welch, who taught for 29 years in Pinellas County schools, died Feb. 9 of an apparent heart attack, his family said. He was 82.

"He was my mentor, my uncle, my pastor," said Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, the son of former St. Petersburg city council member David Welch, Rev. Welch's brother. "He was a giant but a very meek person. He was never about flashy cars or lavish clothes or a large house. He stands out for me as a spiritual father and a mentor to hundreds of children."

A few well-chosen words by Rev. Welch could ease a troubled mind and put everything in perspective.

Theresa "Momma Tee" Lassiter turned to her longtime pastor countless times, especially when her community activism aroused controversy.

"He said, 'Sister Tee, they hated Jesus, so you think you're above being hated? Look at what God has brought you through. If he brought you through all this, do you think he's going to leave you now?'" she remembered him telling her.

Other community leaders talk about that same knack for the well-chosen word. Rev. Welch was a board member of the Urban League and Suncoast Hospice, and was part of a core group steering Concerned Organizations for Quality Education for Black Students.

"He was the quiet one who sat at the table, not the vocal one," said Watson Haynes, the Urban League president. "He had a scientific approach to problem solving. There had to be some method to the madness. You couldn't just go out there and say, 'This is what we're going to do.' It was never done in such a way as to show he was the smartest person in the room, although we knew he was."

Clarence Welch was born in St. Petersburg. Marilyn Dorn grew up here, too. They met when he was in the ninth grade at Gibbs High and she was two years younger.

"I turned to his cousin and said, 'I'm going to marry your cousin,'" said Marilyn Welch, 79.

He walked her home to Jordan Park, carrying her seven books along with his.

He asked her mother if he could date her.

They married 59 years ago. Rev. Welch served with the Army in the Korean War and graduated from Florida A&M.

Rev. Welch taught at what was then Sixteenth Street Junior High. In the mid-1960s he took over as pastor of 14th Street Church of God in Christ — whose name he changed to Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ — while continuing to teach full time.

"It was time-consuming," said David Welch, 85, his brother, who sat on the City Council that displaced Prayer Tower and two other churches to make way for a domed stadium. "God had a mission for him to do in this community, and he was prone to do it. He couldn't help but do it."

Rev. Welch retired from Azalea Middle School in 1986 but stayed on at the church, adding tutoring and day care programs.

Every December, Rev. Welch participated in a multi-church effort to supply 400 families with toys and food. His work on the Suncoast Hospice board, where he served as vice chairman, led to a community center at 3050 First Ave. S. Rev. Welch had bigger dreams still, hoping to bring a residential hospice unit to St. Petersburg's south side.

In 2004, the St. Petersburg Bar Association presented Rev. Welch with its Liberty Bell Award, given to people whose service has strengthened "the American system of freedom under the law."

"His message was always very clear and direct," Ken Welch said, "and he lived what he preached about."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

.Biography

Pastor Clarence Welch

Born: Dec. 1, 1930

Died: Feb. 9, 2013

Survivors: wife, Marilyn Dorn Welch; daughter, Sharon Welch; son, Ricardo "Ricky" Welch; brothers, David and Johnny Lee Welch; and five grandchildren.

Called to teach or preach, Pastor Clarence Welch chose both 02/23/13 [Last modified: Saturday, February 23, 2013 8:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lightning's Steven Stamkos looks close to top form in first game since November

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The wait felt like forever for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, having gone 10 months without playing in a game.

    A scramble in front of the Lightning goal has Matthew Peca, far left, and Erik Cernak, middle, helping out goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the third period of a 3-1 win against the Predators. Vasilevskiy, who made 29 saves, was “exceptional,” coach Jon Cooper says.
  2. Rays journal: Alex Cobb may have pitched last game in Rays uniform (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — RHP Alex Cobb pitched well enough to lead the Rays to an 8-3 win over the Orioles on Friday.

    Wilson Ramos gives thanks after hitting a grand slam during the second inning, putting the Rays up 4-0.
  3. Steven Souza Jr. vindicating big trade for Rays

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — There was a time when the three-team, 11-player transaction the Rays orchestrated to get Steven Souza Jr. from the Nationals looked liked a bad deal.

    The Rays’ Steven Souza Jr. has 30 home runs this season while improving his defense and baserunning but wants to improve on his .236 batting average.
  4. Fennelly: Lightning's Manon Rheaume made history 25 years ago Saturday

    Lightning Strikes

    The name is part of Lightning history, hockey history, sports history.

    Lightning goalie Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play in an NHL game 25 years ago today.
  5. Investigators reviewing HHS chief's private charter flights

    Politics

    WASHINGTON — Federal investigators are examining Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price's recent use of costly charter flights on the taxpayers' dime for official business.