“Wherever you are, make it better for having been there.” -Joe Welch
Joseph F. Welch ’56 ’97P, former Lehigh University trustee, past president of the Alumni Association, Chi Psi brother, and member of the men’s basketball and tennis teams died Saturday, May 5. He was 77.
Welch, who earned a Business Administration degree from Lehigh and an M.B.A. degree from Cornell University, was known for his enthusiasm, his industrious nature, and knack for innovation (he transformed the junk room at the Chi Psi house into The Cosmopolitan Room).
He once counted that he had 34 different jobs as an undergraduate, many entrepreneurial, including starting the tradition with fraternity brother George Lucas ’56 ‘82P of students wearing brown derby hats to Lehigh-Lafayette games. He also served two years in the United States Army.
A business trailblazer, he said that he learned teamwork and developed leadership skills while at Lehigh and was quoted in the 1988 Bulletin as saying his education “concentrated on not only developing the academic, but also on developing the individual and on developing leadership. That’s what was so important to me when I was there.”
A strong supporter of the university with his time, talent and generosity, the Tower and Asa Packer Society member remained active through fundraising and alumni association activities. Welch was supportive of the need for an enhanced campus fitness center in Taylor Gym and helped in the campaign to raise funds. He also helped make possible the construction of the Rauch Business Center and sponsored a classroom-lecture room.
Welch served on the Lehigh University Alumni Association as board director, senior vice president, and president. He was a member of the inaugural Business Advisory Council (now the Dean’s Advisory Council), serving as the chair from 1990-94, and was a member of the Board of Trustees from 1990-2000.
Chairman of the Reading, PA-based Bachman Company, he was successful in many business ventures before purchasing the snack food company in 1980. He worked in advertising and marketing early in his career, and then began J.F. Welch Interests, Inc. focusing on real estate business ventures and developing raw land.
He joined fellow Lehigh student Roger Penske’s truck-leasing venture, later serving as president of Penske Corporation.
“Joe and I met when we were students at Lehigh in the 1950s. Although we worked together in business and in racing for a time, the more important impact on my life has been Joe’s friendship,” said Roger Penske. “Through the years, my wife Kathy and I have enjoyed a very special relationship with Joe and Marcia and, of course, their girls. His integrity, hard work, love of family, willingness to take a calculated risk, and his terrific personality represent, to me, the essence of Joe Welch. I have been blessed to call him my lifelong friend.”
An avid sportsman throughout his life, Welch drove for Penske Racing and finished second at Watkins Glen in 1967 and fourth in Sebring in 1968. He loved sailing and captured the 1996 Opera House Cup in Nantucket, MA with his sloop Piera. His other passions included golf, piloting his own plane, skiing, and painting.
A native of Binghamton, NY, he is survived by his wife, five daughters, and nine grandchildren.