ROXANA — History teacher, coach, assistant coach, assistant athletic director, weight room trainer, colleague, friend, community leader, sports fan and unsung hero to many. Those are some of the words used to describe the man many have called coach, Jeff Welker, at Roxana High School.
RHS students woke Tuesday morning to learn that their teacher, 65, had passed away suddenly at 9:53 p.m. Monday evening at Anderson Hospital in Maryville. Welker’s preliminary cause of death was attributed to a heart attack he suffered while at home.
Known for his love and knowledge of history, Welker found ways to help his students enjoy the past so they could better understand their future. Welker’s legacy is the countless young men and women who have grown to love history so much from his example, they choose to emulate him in their own careers and walk in his footsteps.
“I can think of so many Roxana graduates from the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s that have wanted to and have become history teachers, in part because of Coach Welker,” East Alton-Wood River Dean of Students and Athletic Director Adam Miller said. “During the ’80s and ’90s, Roxana had such a strong history department with Coach Welker and Murray Harbke that it inspired so many RHS students to major in history and become history teachers. I know that was the case with myself. I had Coach Welker for several history classes and learned so much and wanted to share and pass on what he had taught me. One of our excellent history teachers here at EA-WR, John Marshall, is another example.”
Welker was a graduate of EA-WR but replanted his roots in the RHS soil more than 37 years ago. As part of the successful coaching staff Roxana had during the years that included Charlie Raich, Bill Smith, Larry Milazzo, Joe Huff and Mike Arbuthnot, Welker has worn many hats. It was Welker’s passion outside of the classroom to work with kids in the weight rooms to help prepare them for competition.
“His history at RHS is legendary,” Roxana Principal Tom Roth said. “He’s been around so many of the programs, like with wrestling and football, he’s worked with countless kids over the years. The drive he built, how he challenged student-athletes to get bigger and stronger. He helped Bunker Hill start their football program and get it going. He’s left a lasting impact on every student and player and has gone above and beyond to make a difference in their lives as they’ve gone on to coach or teach themselves.”
As students resumed the work week after being away from school on Monday to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the RHS administration provided counseling and gave a hand of support to students and staff as they mourned their teacher and colleague.
“Mr. Welker was a very special individual,” Roxana Superintendent Debra Kreutztrager said. “He was great in the classroom and developed a trusting and respectful relationship with students, athletes and those he encountered in the community. Mr. Welker was very humble and very sincere and truly cared for everyone he taught, coached and worked with here at RHS. Counselors were in Mr. Welker’s classroom today and administrators were on hand throughout. Students did things like write letters, share stories and some just wanted to keep the norm and get back to work like Mr. Welker would have wanted them to do.”
In celebration of Welker’s life, visitation will be from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 23, at the Larry Milazzo Memorial Gymnasium inside Roxana High School. Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, also at the gymnasium. The Rev. Mike Stark will officiate. Burial will follow at Rose Lawn Memory Gardens in Bethalto.
Guests should use the high school entrance for the visitation and funeral.