Joseph R. Welke, 91, Red Wing
Joseph R. Welke, World War II veteran and longtime Red Wing resident, passed away Sunday, Sept. 27, at the age of 91, after a brief, courageous battle with cancer. He was cared for and surrounded by his loving family in his home at the time of his death.
Joe was born Feb. 11, 1918, in Milwaukee, Wis., to Dr. Ernest and Leah (Stahl) Welke. The family moved to Madison where Joe attended school and graduated from high school in 1936. He went on to attend Ripon College, Ripon, Wis., and graduated in 1941. Sixteen days after graduation and commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army, he left for Fort Benning, Ga. From 1941-45 he served overseas in the 158th Regimental Combat Unit ("Bushmasters"). He was promoted to captain in 1944 and had lifelong pride in the service to his country. After being discharged Nov. 18, 1945, he married his college sweetheart, Jane Lee VanBergen, on Jan. 5, 1946. They were blessed with four children. Jane passed away Jan. 18, 1989. Joe married Patricia Sekelsky, Nov. 18, 1993, and he became a loving stepfather to her eight children.
Joe worked for the Upjohn Co. before returning to college at NDSU, Fargo, N.D., where he earned his degree in pharmacy. He and his family resided in Moorhead, Minn., where he worked at Wold Drug before relocating to Red Wing, where he went to work at Holmes Drug. From there he went to work for Erickson's Drug, St. John's Hospital, and did relief work for drugstores throughout southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
Joe was a member of Christ Episcopal Church, where he served on the Vestry, taught Sunday school and confirmation, and was most recently a mentor to confirmation students. He was a longtime member of the Hiawatha Valley Toastmasters and served as past president. He had a gift for public speaking and was awarded for his abilities on the local and state levels. He was a member of Golden K Kiwanis and an active participant and celebrant of his "old man's birthday club."
He was instrumental in starting Red Wing's first Alzheimer's disease support group, where he was the facilitator and educator for many years. He went on to become the president of the Minnesota State Alzheimer's Association and also served on its board of directors.
Joe enjoyed traveling, music, dancing, reading, the outdoors and various personal projects.
He was devoted to his family; a wonderful and loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. There was a flirtatious twinkle in his eye that shone brightly, a smile for anyone and everyone and a quick wit. Joe loved and lived life fully, gave of himself generously and was kind and compassionate to all. He was a remarkable, honorable man and his life is a living legacy of love.
Joe was predeceased by his first wife, Jane; and his sister, Dorothy McDonald. He is survived by his wife, Pat, his four children, J. Reed (Gail) Welke, Van (Sally) Welke, Jeannette (Mike) Wilson and Kiki (Steve) Gheen; nine grandchildren, Markas (Liisa), Serra (Rory), Cohlee, Jason (Ashley) and Joel (Mandy) Welke, Marisa (Jason) Dille, Leah (Randii) Buysse Waddell, Anna (Reed) Boleman and Cara Buysse; eight great-grandchildren; sister Virginia (Bert) Bonner; nieces and nephews, as well as eight stepchildren and their families.
Funeral and full military burial will be 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, at Christ Episcopal Church, Red Wing. Visitation will be 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2, at the church. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Christ Church Book of Golden Memories, Fairview Red Wing Hospice or the Minnesota Alzheimer's Disease Association.