A class with Mr. Jeff Welker was a rite of passage at Roxana High School. From junior high, every high school student told my classmates and me that to really experience high school, we had to spend time in his classroom. I spent two years in room 202, and these words held true.
Mr. Welker was a particularly wonderful brand of teacher — his classroom was more like a history museum full of artifacts and remnants from the moments about which he would later teach us. These often came to good use; he would often be seen teaching in old military helmets, or using empty bombshells on desks to wake sleeping students. All of these things came as simple accessories, though, once he opened his mouth to teach. Mr. Welker taught with an unabridged passion about each and every topic he brought to class. He taught us more than the facts of history — he taught us the questions brought to light by its events. I never doubted for a moment that Mr. Welker loved history, because he approached it with his whole heart.
I also never doubted that he loved his students. Through my two years, I saw many students walk through Mr. Welker’s doors, and he had great advice to give all of them. Former students, too, came through his classroom doors with huge smiles waiting to see a man they regarded with an intense respect and almost father-like candor. He never let us leave the classroom, either, without using a moment in history (or, in my case, a cellphone mishap) to teach us lessons that we would never forget.
My view, though, is wholly incomplete — especially without knowing his impact on so many other students. Quite a few of his students over the years have chosen careers in teaching after having one of his classes. A 2009 graduate, Emily Bowermaster, credits him for a huge part of her career choice.
“After hearing Welker lecture, I immediately knew I wanted to be a history teacher. He was the type of teacher, and person, that put his soul in whatever he said or did,” she says. “He knew his facts and had an intense, contagious passion about history. One class period was all you needed to be hooked on his lectures.”
Emily has since graduated with a teaching degree and is teaching today.
Chris Skinner, a graduate of the class of 1983, has been teaching for 28 years after being inspired by Mr. Welker.
“He was one of my biggest role models — a great inspiration,” he says.
He remembers Mr. Welker as both a coach and a teacher, and remarks on Mr. Welker’s investment in his students. “He not only cared about you as a student, but as a person.”
Chris says he remembers Mr. Welker showing up to his college football games. One of his best memories was of various “pep talks” given by Mr. Welker, encouraging students to stay positive and keep enduring.
“That’s always stuck with me,” Chris says. “I had the utmost respect for Coach Welker.”
My heart broke when I opened Facebook and learned of the passing of one of the most influential teachers at Roxana High School. The moment that followed, however, created a whole new admiration for Mr. Welker. I learned how many lives he touched, how many pep talks he gave that stuck with students well into their adult years, how many teachers both present and future whose careers he inspired. His life lessons, his history lessons, and so many of the impressions he made on so many people will last far into the future.