Wilfred R. Welsh

  1915 - 2002

  Wilfred Reinhardt Welsh was born on January 29, 1915, in West Orange, N.J. His parents encouraged young Bill's interest and curiosity in the natural sciences through visits to the American Museum of Natural History. During his high school years, he created a basement natural history museum and had a growing desire to teach. 1 knew Bill (some call him Will) and Mary Welsh for nearly 50 years. When I was a 6th-grader at Ramsey Grammar School, Mary would bring in mineral and fossil specimens to her classroom. Although I never had her for a class, my curiosity over the minerals was so stimulated that she gave me a specimen. It was a hand specimen which showed black franklinite, green willemite, and red zincite grains distributed in white calcite. To this day, I consider this event the spark which led to my pursuit of the earth sciences, particularly mineralogy. I infected a couple of my friends with minerals and soon we haunted the Welsh museum. The Welshes had a pile of minerals in their back yard, rejects from the upgrading of their collection. My prize find was a fist-sized thaumasite, whose etymology I eventually understood to mean "wonder" or "marvel," with the formula ratio H30Ca3SiCSO25.

Bill even took a couple of us to some small mineral shows in New York and Washington, D.C., where we could purchase specimens. Bill's interests extended far beyond minerals. Relatively recently, he went with me to hear the renowned Bach Choir of Bethlehem, Pa. Bill's educational pursuits were truly remarkable and served him well in his illustrious teaching career. They also left an imprint on his equally remarkable collection of natural history specimens, each and every item selected in good taste and with sagacity. Bill matriculated from New Jersey State Teachers College (Upper Montclair), garnering A.B. and M.A. degrees in 1936 and 1938, respectively. After that, he studied mineralogy at Upsala College, astronomy and meteorology at Cornell University, and field geology at Princeton University. These studies were conducted mostly during summertime. Other courses included oceanography at the University of Washington, atomic physics and radiation biology at the University of New Mexico, ecology of coral reefs at the West Indies Laboratory in St. Croix, field geology at the Yellowstone- Bighorn Research Association, and marine biology at Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

After his matriculation and during the aforementioned array of summer studies, Bill's career was as science teacher and department coordinator at Ben Franklin Junior High School in Ridgewood, N.J., from which he retired in 1976. Bill was married to Mary Theresa Bohm, also a teacher. They had no children and were an almost inseparable couple. They settled in Ramsey, N.J., later moved nearby to Saddle River, N.J., and finally retired to Newton, N.J., to be near their collections which have been housed in their original cases since 1991 at the Franklin Mineral Museum. These collections include over 10,000 natural history specimens, though by a considerable margin the minerals take a commanding position. A Dana-arrayed collection, the minerals are mostly fist-sized choice specimens that Bill obtained through purchase, trade, or collecting. To effect trade, Bill and Mary collected abundant and fine samples of zeolites from Nova Scotia. Their collections were open to countless students of all ages. Among the 10,000 specimens, the majority are minerals in 25 cases and 55 drawers; the rest is made up of a crystal model and pseudomorph collection, 3 cases and 2 drawers of rocks, 8 cases and 27 drawers of fossils, 16 cases of biological specimens, and 11 cases of artifacts. Coupled with the Welshes' encouragement of students, this abundance of mineralogical, geological, biological, and archaeological specimens stimulated the development of more than a few outstanding scientists in their own right.
Bill was long active as a special patrolman and police dispatcher. He was also a volunteer in the Police Reserve in Civil Defense. Though it was not expected of a school science teacher, Bill in midlife purchased a Harley- Davidson motorcycle and participated in many rallies. In his retirement Bill suffered angina pectoris and regularly took nitroglycerin. As Mary predeceased him, his final abode was a fine retirement village in Newton, N.J. After triple bypass surgery, he never fully recovered and died shortly thereafter, aged 87 years.

The mineral species welshite, Ca2Mg4FeSbO2 [Si4Be2O18], from Langban, Sweden, was named in Bill's honor in 1978 by one of his former students. It was a fitting recognition for both these modest, gentle, unpretentious persons who gave so much without stint. Ave atque vale! Hail and farewell!
Written By: Paulus B. Moore
From: The Picking Table