Professor enjoys role as delegate

By Jeremy Pelzer

Fred Welch isn’t used to eating breakfast with former Illinois governors or seeing President Bush up close.

But as an alternate delegate to last week’s Republican National Convention in New York City, Welch, a retired University agricultural sciences professor, was a part of his party’s biggest gathering.

“I tell you, I’m 73 years old and it was the most fun I’ve had since I was a teenager, or since my college days,” he said.

Welch, the president of Active Senior Republicans, a local political group, was invited to attend the convention by U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Ill.).

“(Johnson) set the record for the easiest question anyone ever asked me,” Welch said. “He asked me, ‘Fred, how would you like to go to the national convention?'”

While the Illinois delegation was seated in the far corners of the upper deck of Madison Square Garden, Welch found some empty ground-floor seats just in front of the stage.

From his newly upgraded seat, Welch was able to see speeches by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sen. Zell Miller (D-Georgia), and former Miss America Erika Harold, an Urbana native.

Welch said he was particularly impressed by Schwarzenegger’s speech.

“He sure gave an outstanding, patriotic, proud-to-be-an-American speech, and the crowd just loved him,” he said.

Another memorable moment for Welch came on Thursday evening, when President Bush addressed the convention.

“Just to be in (Bush’s) presence, to hear him speak,” he said, was the highlight of the convention.

During the day, Welch and his wife took a cruise around New York Harbor, attended a political workshop, saw the Broadway show “The Lion King” and went to several GOP receptions. In their few moments of free time, the couple visited Ground Zero and the tomb of former president Ulysses S. Grant.

“We worked in sleep between the late-night receptions and the early-morning buffets,” he said. “I came home dead tired – but I can sleep in Urbana when I get back home.”

Meeting and seeing famous politicians up close added to Welch’s convention experience, he said.

“I’m not used to walking down the halls or eating breakfast with former (Illinois) governor Jim Edgar or former (Illinois) governor Jim Thompson,” he said. “I was humbled just to be in the presence of some of the people there.”

One group that Welch didn’t get to meet were the hundreds of thousands of protesters that clogged New York City streets throughout the week. Welch said New York police kept protesters far from convention delegates.

“Most of the time you’d not even know that there were protesters around,” he said.

Welch said the past week has been “a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and my wife.”

“It was quite an experience for a country boy from Tennessee,” he said. “We’d like to think that we’ve made a difference.”