First Generation Story

Help Along the Way

John D. Welty, Past President
President John D. Welty

The oldest of six children, I grew up on a small family farm in North Central Illinois. My dad milked 30-40 cows every day. It was hard work from morning to night. Early in my life, both my mother and father encouraged me to read. "Do well in school," my dad told me, "so you won't have to get up early every morning and work such long hours."

My formal education began in a one-room school house with eight grades. I was one of only three kids in my class. Our teacher, Mrs. Marcella Morrissey, made a major difference in my life. She challenged me to do better. I was very adventuresome. When we got into trouble, she made us sit behind the piano. One day I discovered that when she confiscated comic books, she put them behind the piano.
collage of President WeltyI began watching to see when she put new comic books there. Then I would do something to bring about my piano punishment.

From the one-room school house, I moved to a consolidated school in the third grade. Leaving Mrs. Morrissey was painful because she had taken an interest in me and pushed me to work hard. Adjusting to a larger school was difficult because much of the school work was boring, but I continued to be a good student.

My life was changed forever when I was ten years old. My dad died from complications as a result of an appendectomy. We had to move in with my grandmother in a small town. Even though my mother was pregnant with my younger brother, she began working two jobs to support us.

Throughout my K-12 years, my mother, grandmother and aunts and uncles impressed upon me how very important it was to do well in school, so I could go to college. I did very well and teachers encouraged me to get involved in all kinds of activities. I participated in debate, drama, football, basketball, track, baseball and several other clubs. Those experiences gave me confidence.

In high school I had to work in addition to studying and participating in school activities. It was challenging to balance it all. My teachers were encouraging though and it was apparent that college was everyone's expectation for me. However, the idea of going to college was frightening. It was far away from where I lived and from my family's experience and I was uncertain about my ability to succeed.

I was accepted to Western Illinois University and received a small scholarship. But when my mother loaded me in the car for that long trip to Macomb, Illinois, I was afraid. She helped me move into the dorm and when she left, I felt so alone. The first few weeks of college were very difficult. It was a large place compared to home. Many students were smarter than I was and I had never experienced that kind of competition. I had been the valedictorian of my class.

The day I got my first English theme back was the darkest day of the fall semester. I received the lowest grade I had ever earned and my instructor's comments were not complimentary. I was devastated. Nevertheless, I decided to fight back, as I had before when other challenges confronted me. I recovered and learned that I had to work harder.

During my first year of college, I was fortunate to meet my dorm advisor who was supportive. He encouraged me to apply for a Resident Assistant position. In my sophomore year, I was hired. I enjoyed the work so much that I considered going into college student affairs as my profession. That decision led to graduate school and the rest is history.

To read more first generation stories, visit