West Virginia in general — and the Ohio Valley in particular — has a tremendously generous nature. From weekend steak fries and quarter auctions to the many foundations, trusts and charitable organizations, our residents have a long and proud history of giving back to their community. The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has been blessed with many generous benefactors over the past 168 years whose contributions have helped spread the ministry of the Church from our parishes to our schools and beyond.
One of the recognizable arms of the Church in the Wheeling area is the Welty Corporation, a not-for-profit corporation offering an array of both independent and assisted living options for the elderly. What many do not know is that the Welty Corporation was funded through the generous, selfless bequests of two sisters from a prominent Wheeling family.
Clara and Bertha Welty were born as the fifth and sixth children of Peter and Rosa Schauber Welty of Wheeling. Peter had been born in Baden (Germany) in 1836 and, after immigrating to America, worked as a stone cutter in Maryland before moving to Wheeling during the Civil War, where, with his brother, he opened a wholesale liquor business, becoming sole proprietor in 1870 and later becoming a director at Schmulbach Brewing Company. He married Rosa in 1867 and within 10 years had fathered four sons, three of whom would die as children. Peter died at the age of 58, having already amassed a small fortune for his family, while a fourth son, George E. Welty, would follow in his father’s footsteps as a liquor wholesaler before dying of heart disease at age 25.
Clara Welty was born on April 17, 1879, and her sister Bertha on Oct. 25, 1882. Both were educated at St. Alphonsus Parochial School in Center Wheeling before transferring to Mount de Chantal, from whence they graduated in 1897 and 1900 respectively. The sisters returned to their home at 851 Main St. in North Wheeling where, for the remainder of their lives, they lived modestly on their inherited wealth. Both were active in the Catholic Church, so much so that, in recognition of her philanthropic efforts, Archbishop John J. Swint put forward Clara’s name for a papal medal, which was presented by Swint on behalf of Pope Pius XII on Nov. 22, 1949. The West Virginia Register recalled that Welty had “led an exemplary Christian life and has maintained an active interest in the expansion of the Church in her native city of Wheeling.”
When Bertha Welty died on May 22, 1946, Clara was left as the sole survivor of the Welty mantle. Bertha left much of the residue of her portion of the family estate — appraised at more than $760,000 — to her sister Clara. This bequest laid the foundation for a later gift from which our city and region continue to benefit to this day.
Neither Clara nor Bertha married during their lifetimes, and while they could certainly lean on each other, we may imagine that they experienced some difficulty in their later years with no spouses, children and few relatives to help care for them. It may be this concern that in 1950 prompted Clara Welty to donate her family home to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston to be used as a home for aged single women and widows, thus forming The Welty Home for the Aged Inc.
While renovations were underway at the North Wheeling home, plans were presented for a new interstate highway to bridge Wheeling Island in the area of the Welty home. The trustees decided to sell the home to the state for demolition and used the proceeds toward the purchase of a new home — the opulent Carroll Reed estate — located “out the pike” at 1252 National Road. Unfortunately, this new building could accommodate only five residents, so the following year a new addition brought total accommodations up to 16 residents. In 1954, Bishop Thomas J. McDonnell, Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese, secured the services of the Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm, a religious order dedicated to managing homes for the aged around the country.
Clara Welty passed away on Oct. 3, 1960, though she had made her final plans nearly a decade prior. On Dec. 26, 1951, she had executed her Last Will & Testament in which was established the Clara Welty Testamentary Trust with an initial value of $3 million, which included the residue of Bertha Welty’s earlier bequest. According to Clara’s wishes, the Trust was established with the objective of “the care and housing of deserving aged people.” She likewise planned for the future in stipulating a provision that the principal of the trust was to be used to buy property only if use of the money did not impair the income earned by the trust — a provision that continues to guide the growth of the Welty Corporation to this day.
The Trust was activated on April 9, 1964, and within a year, a portion of those initial funds were used in the construction of a new “ultra-modern” facility on Washington Avenue that would more than triple the number of beds for Welty residents. The building, today affectionately referred to as the “roundhouse,” was dedicated on March 24, 1966, with housing for 48 women. The facility was boasted as “such to rival most successful hotels across the country.”
The Trust continued to expand and, just four years later in December 1970, Good Shepherd Nursing Home was acquired. Located just one mile from the Welty Home, Good Shepherd was completed in 1925 to house Our Lady of the Valley School. Administered by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the school was closed in 1969 and the property deeded to the Diocese, which in turn offered use of the facility to Welty. The building opened with 17 skilled-care beds and by the close of the decade had expanded to 192 beds.
Welty continued to expand into the 1980s with construction of the Clara Welty Retirement Apartments, dedicated in August 1984 with 35 one- and two-bedroom apartments. The building was expanded in 1991 and, in 2008, the Bertha Welty Apartments were dedicated just across National Road. Most recently, Welty has expanded to include Braddock Apartments on the campus of Good Shepherd Nursing Home as well as Welty Townhomes located on National Road.
In 1978, Wheeling would recognize the charitable, selfless gifts of the Welty family by inducting Clara Welty into the inaugural class for the Wheeling Hall of Fame with such local luminaries as Earl Oglebay, Walter Reuther and George Stifel. While the Welty family left little in the way of personal records to help us further document their lives, they’ve left a legacy of benevolence and caring that is unrivaled in our area.
• Jon-Erik Gilot, MLIS, is director of archives and records for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.