“Leave the world better than you found it.” In many ways, it is a simple concept, but it is also a way of living that requires intentional, consistent action to fulfill. In different ways our grandfather left the members of our family “better than he found us.” And I’d like to share how his values and passions live on in us with the hope that it helps explain the exceptional example he set and the deep love we feel for him.
Mark, Our Dad
One of grandpa’s lasting gifts to our family is the furniture he built. We have tables, side tables, buffets, jewelry boxes, bird houses and, perhaps most importantly to me, a six room, two story doll house complete with electrical wiring, matching upholstery and miniature yogurts in a small, wooden fridge.
Grandpa illustrated love through building things for his family. But not just any things. He was intolerant of subpar quality—a trait I suspect he got from his own father—and he wanted only the best in the furniture he constructed—which is why he ordered his kits from Bartley and spent hours on each piece in his garage on Woodbrook Drive.
Today, his son Mark, our dad, has inherited and carried on that same love of building. He shows love through the things he creates for others. When I was moving away after college, dad spent several days with me building adirondack chairs for my new home. He built mom bookshelves with only a magazine image on hand, and, today, volunteers with the Shepherd’s Center in Winston-Salem—traveling to the homes of the elderly and helping them with home improvement projects.
Our grandfather took pride in what he built and conveyed his love and appreciation for others through what he constructed. What wasn’t always said with words was articulated through the energy and deliberateness through which he created things for others. That tradition and way of showing love now lives on in our own dad. And some day, when Emily and I have enough money for a circular saw, a workbench and a garage, we hope he passes it on to us as well.
Mike, Our Uncle
While grandpa had the hands for building, he also had the eyes and the head for numbers. And not just any numbers—money and investments. This interest flooded the heart and life of his son Mike as well, but I’ll come back to Mike.
Grandpa’s love for numbers started early in his life. He majored in economics at Guilford College and went on to build a career with Jefferson Pilot Insurance Company here in Greensboro, eventually becoming the company’s treasurer. He also loved his stocks and monitored the stock market closely. I can remember watching the stock ticker scroll on the bottom of the TV after the closing bell while Grandpa instructed me on which company abbreviations to look out for.
Next to finances, grandpa deeply believed in the value of higher education. In his 80s, he could still recall his professors at Guilford College and the subjects they taught. He also believed in supporting the education of his children and grandchildren. He saw both of his sons and two of his granddaughters graduate from UNC Chapel Hill, and when his granddaughters got master’s degrees, he asked questions about our coursework and challenged us to consider how we would apply what we’d learned toward a better world.
That interest and passion for finance and higher education has made it into each of us in some way. But without question, it is most the part of our Uncle Mike. Mike took both further than any of us by earning his PhD in Accounting and becoming an accounting professor. Like our grandfather, both Mike and Mark believe in supporting others in their path through higher education. When you listen to Mike talk about his students, you can feel that he cares deeply about their learning and engagement, and makes a great effort to have classroom learning apply to the current accounting world. Through Mike, I can see two of our grandfather’s great passions living on and spreading into the lives of others outside our family.
Emily took on the education values of our grandfather, but hasn’t spent enough years as a working woman to fully develop her appreciation for his investment prowess. However, neither of these are what she takes most fully from our grandfather. Emily, while the youngest in our family, may have the fullest heart and deepest love for others. My grandfather filled her with his love and pride for our family.
I experienced the way my grandfather loved his family in many ways. He and my grandmother together created an example of how two people live their lives together, supporting one another and those around them. Since marrying my husband, Tom, two years ago, grandpa has emphasized one idea to both of us regularly: Be patient with one another. For Tom, it was to be patient with me when I was in graduate school. For me, it was to be patient with Tom as he transitioned to a new life for my graduate school journey.
Patience has become an ideal I hold close to my heart and make an effort to exercise daily. And patience as a message in a relationship, I think, spans beyond just a simple idea. Patience also means to appreciate the sacrifices others are making for you. Patience means to appreciate the effort of a loved one even if they don’t get it right the first, or second, or third time (Tom’s habit of leaving dirty socks on the floor comes to mind). Patience lifts up the idea that people can change or that a situation can improve and, with that, patience brings hope. And that is one of the great lessons about family that my grandfather has given to me.
The relevance of my grandfather’s reflections on relationships and family have also not been lost on Emily. Over the last several years, my grandfather and Emily have formed, what I find to be, a beautiful and special connection. That a man born in the 1920s and his granddaughter born in 1990 could be such kindred spirits is something to be treasured. Together they explored the inner workings of the I-Pad and its apps, so that grandpa could send us pictures of his car or plants and email with us about our days. Emily met his friends and dinner table group at Friends Home, and in return, Grandpa rode with her to Durham to explore her new home.
Together, they developed a friendship and a mutual appreciation for one another that exceeds most granddaughter-grandfather bonds. I know that Emily will someday seek to share that love and those memories with her own children and grandchildren (and hopefully mine too). And in that way, grandpa will teach our future family members about the richness that comes from connecting with your loved ones.
Sandi, Our Mom
If Emily and grandpa connected through their value of family, mom and grandpa connected in their love of having family together around one table. In a different way than the rest of our family, mom and grandpa shared a distinct, often unspoken bond. She loved a reason for a well done holiday meal, and grandpa loved to be that reason.
At each holiday there were special treats mom would prepare just because grandpa was joining us. Warm apple cider with cinnamon, orange peel and clove for Thanksgiving, rack of lamb for Easter, and maybe some sweeter than normal wine at Christmas. At the end of our family meals he would share his appreciation for how good her cooking was, and later in life he would tease her that he “could not get anything nearly as good at Friends Home.” The delight he took in her effort and meals gave me pride and happiness for my mom, as I’m sure it did for her as well.
He delighted in what she shared with him, and she was glad to have an appreciative audience (especially when her normal audience was two teenage girls). They were quite the dynamic holiday duo, and the special things he loved are foods I will forever associate with both grandpa and my mom. Cider, pumpkin pie, and rack of lamb will be things we continue to fix, so he will be a part of our holidays in spirit. And as new family members join the Welker ranks, the tradition of mom preparing dishes that she knows they enjoy lives on… most recently in the Spinach Madeline she fixes for my husband, Tom.
And so while grandpa cannot be with us here today, I feel him closely through each of member of my family: In dad’s expression of love through doing and building, in Mike’s love of teaching and accounting, in Emily’s tight hold of our family and its tradition, and in my Mom’s love of preparing the things that others love. He left each of member of my family better than he found them, and, in that way, he is all around me and will continue to be for many years to come.