By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Gene Welsh remembered for many community roles
Gene Welsh did so much in his life that it's hard to say exactly how he will be remembered.

Welsh, who fought the Japanese on the islands of the Philippines during World War II, ran a successful auto body shop in Ceres and was a pillar of the Ceres Twisters Square Dance Club, died last Wednesday from complications from Alzheimer's Disease. He was 87 when death came to him at Pacifica Senior Living in Modesto, home for the past two years.

"He was a great dad," said Mike Welsh, a member of the Ceres Unified School District Board of Trustees. "He's just a well respected guy. Just a good guy. He was honest, a straight shooter, a man of his word."

Welsh, an early member of the Ceres Rotary Club and American Legion in Ceres, left such a lengthy community service legacy and was so well respected that he was named Citizen of the Year by the Ceres Chamber of Commerce in 1988. He was named "Rotarian of the Year" in 1987. He served as the Ceres Legion post commander.

Mr. Welsh was instrumental in getting youth baseball play off the ground in Ceres, said Mike Welsh.

A funeral service is set for 10 a.m. Thursday at Lakewood Memorial Park. Visitation is this evening.

Born May 9, 1925 in McAlester, Okla., Gene came to Ceres at age 15 with parents needing work picking peaches and received his Army draft notice in 1943. He became a platoon sergeant with the 24th Army Division, 19th Infantry Regiment at a young age. Welsh saw intense fighting as his platoon was charged with cleaning the islands of Luzon, Mindoro and Leyte of Japanese strongholds. Once his entire platoon was mowed down.

"Gene and another fellow were the only two who survived," said his widow, Bettye Welsh. "He played dead until the Japanese were done poking holes in them."

Welsh had suffered a number of gunshot wounds during his service and was forever haunted by the war terrors he saw. He often would write personal letters to parents of the men who died in his command.

"We lost a lot of guys," Welsh told a high school classroom in 2007. "I wrote a lot of letters home to moms and dads."

"He was shot a number of times," said Mike. "He had metal left in him, one of them an inch from his heart. He had a huge scar on his left arm and they went in to take that out but they didn't. That was when I was a kid. I remember digging shrapnel out of his back as a kid. I remember little slivers of metal that came out of his body over time."

During the war, Gene became pen-pals with a young lady who captured his heart. After the war ended in 1945, Gene visited Bettye and fell in love. They married two weeks after she graduated from high school in Texas and they were lifelong lovers.

Welsh saved up $10,000 during the war and sent it home, asking his parents to buy him a house in Ceres. The Welshes came to Ceres in 1946, with Gene supporting his family in the auto body and painting trade. In 1967 Welsh opened Ceres Body Shop & Towing south of the Ceres cemetery. Sons Mike and Ron Welsh - Ron died in 2004 - took over the business and in 1981 dropped auto body to strictly offer towing services through Ceres Pro Tow.

Both Gene and Bettye started Ceres Twisters in 1956, and Gene called and taught classes for the group of square dancers for 40 years. The couple started a sister group, the Rocking W Rounders a while later, setting up dances at the elementary school cafeterias in Ceres.

"It was one of our favorite things to do," said Bettye. "And because Gene was a people person he delighted in seeing people together and happy."