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Fran Welsh is the volunteer's volunteer
Fran Welsh got the surprise of her life recently. Her niece and family friends plotted a surprise 80th birthday party and drew members of St. Jude's Catholic Church and Soroptimist International of Ceres. Even the mayor showed up to present a ceremonial key to the city.

It was a most appropriate and public celebration for a woman who has done so much for Ceres and for others.

Born in Akron, Ohio on Feb. 2, 1930 and raised there, Fran got involved in teaching in 1952. She resisted the status quo approach to struggling students at Revere High School in Bath, Ohio, and she desired a place that presented more of a challenge. She became interested in a teaching job in Ceres. In 196. she was hired over the phone by Principal Fleming Haas.

"I couldn't find Ceres on the map," said Welsh with a chuckle. "My dad was helping me and we couldn't find it."

She remembers her phone conversation with Haas including this from him: "Now you're sure you won't be homesick?" She replied, "I have no idea."

Welsh decided to take the job without checking out Ceres at all; however, niece Jeannie Metzler did drop by on a vacation swing through California and reported back that it was a "nice, little town."

A 33-year-old single woman, Welsh headed west with all her possessions in a U-Haul trailer and her dog.

"I had just recently read the book, 'Men to Match My Mountains' and I thought what a neat travel plan. It was a fascinating trip."

Fran arrived as the first female history teacher at Ceres High School since its founding in 1908. She also taught English and government at Ceres High School.

She immediately felt at home with Ceres. Mr. Haas referred her to Sid Long Sr. to find an apartment, then went to the bank where a friendly clerk immediately opened her up a bank account.

"I immediately felt at home. It was a friendly community, open to chat."

Welsh remembers having Zalmay Khalilizad in her in 1966-67 classes. The foreign exchange student from Afghanistan was intrigued with American government, and Welsh had many conversations with him. During the George W. Bush years, Khalilizad became ambassador to Afghanistan and later U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Welsh had immense respect for Haas and they developed a strong bond of friendship. The late Haas once said of Welsh, "She would literally give you the shirt off her back if she thinks you need it. She's continually looking for places where she can make a difference - that's the core of Fran."

When Ceres Unified School District was mandated to start a continuation high school, Haas went over to start Argus High. Welsh was one of the staff members.

"I went along because those are the kind of kids I was intrigued by - kids who had difficulties and problems."

She found that in order to help troubled students "you have to get to know them and respect them first, not just put them in a class and hand out everybody the same thing. To know their interests."

Welch became the second principal of Argus High School in 1971 when Haas became CUSD business manager. She was principal for 14 years.

Ceres High School Principal Ed Skeen stepped down so Welsh was asked to consider being interim principal there.

"That was a hard decision because I loved my job at Argus but I also knew that Ceres High teachers had been going through tough times."

Welsh was principal at CHS for the 1985-86 year when she was replaced by Chuck Edmonds. She remembers have of the current Ceres City Council - Anthony Cannella, Chris Vierra and Bret Durosette - being among her students.

While working in education, Welsh also volunteered four days a week as a surrogate parent for special education students in Ceres, Hughson, Gustine, Denair and Turlock. She also served on the Ceres School Attendance Review Board, volunteered as a tutor and worked on city and county drug abuse prevention groups. She also was involved in the American Field Service student exchange program.

Retirement came in 1986.

"Dr. Adkison told me when I resigned, 'You should stay. You'll make more money in retirement if you stay on a few more years. But I use to always tell myself, when the night before that first day of school no longer felt like Christmas eve that I was ready to retire.

Retirement didn't end her community service. Single her entire life, Welsh found volunteering to be a great way to be connected to people.

"I really feel it's been an opportunity more than a chore," said Welsh of volunteering. "I think communities are stronger because of volunteering. When you're volunteering, you're meeting all kinds of people."

She was one of the moving forces to get the Ceres Western Art Show & Sale established and for 10 years it was raised CHS scholarship money.

Her current passion is serving her church, St. Jude's. Welsh has taught high school and adult classes at church for 25 years there, and served on the parish council and several building committees and served on the Ladies Guild. She also served on the Diocesan Religious Education Board and the Diocesan Synod and is coordinator of the lectors.

While some would find working with the dying and families of dying patients, Welsh found great reward working as a Community Hospice volunteer.

"Next to my church, Hospice is the most rewarding thing I've ever done," she said. "I can remember someone saying to me, 'Gosh, how can you do that?' But I gained as much from them as they ever did from me."

Welsh is also had a very long and active association with Soroptimists. A past club president, she has enjoyed working on club service activities. She even served as a district director of Soroptimists from 1984 to 1986.

She's also often found at the Ceres Library where she volunteers. Welsh offered her leadership skills to help fight for passage of the eighth-cent sales tax increase to fund the county library system.

Welsh helped organize the Measure H Committee to raise funds for new Ceres schools.

Her passion for history means she is a member of the Ceres Historical Society.

When the Ceres Unified School District called for names of persons to name a school after, Welsh's name came up but she declined the honor before it came up for consideration.