‘The life lessons learned from my mom, Alletha, are too numerous to convey,’ said Mayor Ken Welch. ‘But chief among them is a commitment to God, to serve the purpose that we have in this life.’
BY JOYCE NANETTE JOHNSON, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Through the decades, Mrs. Alletha Welch has witnessed socioeconomic changes, racism, and the political landscape within the City of St. Petersburg. However, none of those events hold more significance to her than the historic swearing-in of her son, Kenneth T. Welch as the 54th mayor of St. Petersburg, becoming the first African American to be elected to the position.
Originally from Sarasota, Mrs. Welch had to postpone her education for 10 years to care for her ailing parents. Once she could go back to school, she enrolled at the former Gibbs Junior College.
Since Sarasota County did not have a junior college and Manatee County’s college did not allow Black students because of Jim Crow-era policies, she and other Black students were bussed to St. Pete.
Gibbs Junior College was created in 1957 by the Pinellas County Board of Public Instruction for African-American students as a way to avoid integration. The institution served as a launching point for higher education for many Black people from Pinellas and Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Pasco, Hernando, and Polk Counties. The college eventually closed in 1967.
“It was a long, tiring daily journey because I had to take two busses. I needed to get prepared for a decent job,” Mrs. Welch stated.
At Gibbs, she met her future husband, David T. Welch, who was employed by the college at that time. They married and had two children, Ken and Katrina.
Mrs. Welch graduated with honors and was hired at the Veterans Administration Regional Office, eventually retiring as a supervisory claims examiner.
The Welch family moved into the Lake Maggiore Shores neighborhood, where they had a happy home.
“We had the largest yard. All of the kids in the neighborhood ended up coming over to our yard to play,” she stated.
“The world is different for the kids today,” she remarked. “The kids have exposure to so much, especially part of it coming from social media. The parents have a difficult job.”
Mrs. Welch feels that St. Petersburg has become a more progressive community to live in through the years.
“It’s better now. Not where it needs to be, but better. We don’t always see the good things, just the bad.”
She stressed that her children were lucky to be raised in a “village concept. “Their aunt and uncle lived close by, and their grandfather, Flagmon Welch, was often called on to provide childcare for the youngest family members.
Flagmon Welch was David Welch’s dad, and he owned and operated a woodyard in the Gas Plant neighborhood. It was a family business where young Ken worked summers and after school.
Unfortunately, the area became a casualty of eminent domain, a system implemented by the government that gives it the authority to claim privately owned land supposedly for the “good” of the community at large.
Young Ken would see firsthand the disastrous effects of eminent domain that destroyed the homes, businesses, and generational wealth primarily of Black residents.
David Welch dove into local politics, winning a seat three times on the St. Petersburg City Council and established the Welch Tax Services and Accounting.
David and Alletha Welch had specific rules that they ascribed to their children.“We expected certain things from them,” she stated firmly. “Everybody had a responsibility to each other due to genes.”
Welch House Rules
- If young Ken and Katrina borrowed from their mom, she made them sign promissory notes, and they had to pay it back (their father was more lenient on the issue)
- Both children had to share all chores and clean their rooms, and curfews were enforced
- Both of them had to learn how to cook and do laundry
“I taught both of my children to have self-pride, self-respect, honesty and that no one could take that from them,” she stated.
Not to be out shinned by her trailblazing brother, Katrina Welch is the first African American to hold the position of health service manager within the State of Florida Health Department’s local child abuse prevention program.
“Katrina is compassionate and smart,” Mother Welch said with pride.
Katrina Welch gushed over her mother, stating that she’s learned so much from observing her.
“She’s mastered emotional intelligence; even in the most challenging situations, she’s remained calm. Within that calm reserve, she thinks and is deliberate in her response.
“She quietly gives from her heart. I’ve seen her bless so many others with words, prayers, and deeds. She never boasts about her giving because it’s from a genuine place of meeting a need and lifting others.
“She’s smart! She keeps her mind sharp by reading, daily word puzzles, writing, and is the most tech-savvy senior I know. Stay tuned for her poetry collection. I’m proud to call her “ma,'” Katrina said.
“He was mischievous,” Mrs. Welch chuckled when she described Mayor Welch as a child.
“But he was never lazy about learning. He questioned everything and was inquisitive.”
“He also loved me to read him bedtime stories every night.”
Mrs. Welch speaks about her son in the utmost regard. She couldn’t be prouder of her baby boy.
“Two words that describe my son are ‘prepared’ and ‘trustworthy,’” she said. “If possible, he still comes to see me every Sunday. It’s our special time.”
Mayor Welch and his mother share a mutual bond of love, trust, and admiration.
“The life lessons learned from my mom, Alletha, are too numerous to convey,” said Mayor Welch. “But chief among them is a commitment to God, to serve the purpose that we have in this life.”
“The second is education. Mom emphasized reading and writing. She purchased an expensive set of World Book Encyclopedias (the huge illustrated red ones) for me in elementary school, and I read it cover to cover. She is a gifted writer and poet and taught me the craft of writing.
“She also taught me the importance of truth,” the mayor emphasized. “A principle that she taught me, and I live by, is “always tell the truth, and you won’t have to remember what lie you told to whom.
“Finally, she taught me always to speak up and how to respectfully, but forcefully, speak out against and oppose those policies and practices that undermine the common good. So, when mom sees me in the news involving some controversy – like voting rights, term limits, the Albert Whitted airport, etc., I simply smile at her and say, ‘Mom, I’m doing what you taught me.’”
Mayor Ken Welch concluded by saying, “For her counsel and guidance, I am eternally grateful. She is my queen.”
Mrs. Alletha Welch said she was surprised when her son told her of his intentions to run for public office.
“He had said he would never run for public office because he would never be able to please everybody. He had a concern for people.”
Mrs. Welch laughed as she explained that if her husband were still here, you could have never stopped him from talking about his son, the mayor.
“Ken reads, examines, and finds out as much as he can about any issue,” Mrs. Welch said. “He listens to both sides because he wants to do the right thing in the end.”
“Raising Ken and seeing the man he has become has been a blessed journey.”
Happy Mother’s Day to Mrs. Alletha Welch and all the other proud moms out there!