Obituary: James Welch, 1932-2024 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: James Welch, 1932-2024

Professor emeritus had a long and distinguished career in animal sciences

Published March 26, 2024 at 6:00 a.m.
Updated March 26, 2024 at 9:41 a.m.


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James Welch - COURTESY
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  • James Welch

James Graham Welch, professor emeritus, University of Vermont, died on March 18, at the age of 91. He had a long illness from cardiac disease but had extended his life through his own determination and the good health care he received in the Burlington community.

Jim was born in Ithaca, N.Y., on August 16, 1932. His father, Donald Welch, was a professor of plant pathology at Cornell University, and his mother, J. Catherine (Graham) Welch, was a botanist. Jim fondly remembered his father returning home at lunchtime to walk through the beautiful gardens with his mother, while discussing the progress of each plant. Jim’s older sister, Kitty (Catherine), rounded out the nuclear family.

Jim completed undergraduate studies at Cornell University in 1955. He continued academic work at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he earned a PhD in 1959. After graduation, Dr. Welch headed off with his wife, the late Betty (McSween) Welch, to Rutgers University in New Jersey. The next seven years were, indeed, full with faculty responsibilities in teaching new courses, conducting and presenting his research and establishing a reputation among his peers. Also at this time, Jim and Betty became parents to four daughters. First was Elizabeth Wynn, followed by Catherine “Kate” Carty, Margaret Merritt and Anne Stuart.

In 1967 Dr. Welch became aware of an open faculty position at the University of Vermont. He enthusiastically applied and was appointed associate professor. For the next 30 years, he held faculty appointments in the graduate college and in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and taught undergraduate and graduate courses in animal nutrition, as well as physiology and genetics. Dr. Welch’s research focused on ruminant nutrition (appetite control and ruminant dynamics). In 1971 he was promoted to professor. In 1984 Dr. Welch was recognized as distinguished faculty with the University Scholar Award in Biological Sciences for his sustained and excellent research activity. Although he was offered administrative positions, he firmly believed that the best job one could have was that of professor with tenure.

The move to UVM meant that Jim and his family now resided close to the shores of Lake Champlain. Jim purchased a 12-foot centerboard sloop and began a successful four-year racing career. He studied sailing dynamics with the same intensity he gave to any new endeavor, and, consequently, his boat was the one to beat. The joy of sailing however gave way to his passion for farming.

Jim had purchased land on the advice of a banker when the family first moved to Vermont. In 1978, he decided to use this land, in part, to raise Highland beef cattle. This land became his beloved Owl Rock Farm. Jim was born with what he would call “the farmer gene.” As an animal science major, he learned a great deal from Cornell’s mandatory three summer-farm experiences, which he started while in high school. Now he was working his own farm, along with his university responsibilities. He did it without hiring helpers, but he did forge a very important summer ritual. Each year he joined the neighbor’s haying crews and soon hay began filling his sheds. Jim held his neighbors, the Stebbins, in deep respect. They became as close as family over the many years.

Jim purchased his first bull, Charlie, from Carroll Shatney, the Cow Whisperer of northern Vermont. Jim and Carroll had an enduring friendship. When Jim was entering a new phase of his life with Dr. Lorri Clarke, a faculty colleague, Carroll asked Jim, “What are you gonna do with her?” His advice? “Marry her. She’s a good one.” So, in 1995, Jim and Lorri were married and enjoyed a beautiful, 30-year relationship. For ten of those years, Lorri worked with Jim, caring for and learning about the marvelous Highland cattle.

Jim worked with the Highland breed for 38 years. He was a very committed, productive member of the American Highland Cattle Association. He served on the board of directors of both the national and regional associations. He raised breeding stock, judged Highland cattle shows and wrote many articles on nutrition and grazing practices, among other subjects, for the association’s professional journal. Jim was frequently an expert resource for members and nonmember breeders. In 2006, Jim was elected Member of the Year, and, in 2010, he was elected to the Highland Hall of Fame for his dedication to the breed and to the association.

Jim was an active member of the First United Methodist Church of Burlington. He served six years on the board of trustees. There, he developed another staunch group of friends who shared many experiences. One group helped build, under the direction of Bruce Venner, a simple house, overlooking beautiful farmlands of Owl Rock Farm. The four daughters, along with friends, would spend weekends creating adventures that still live in their memories.

Folk dancing was another interest that created friendships that have long endured. The group would frequently dance Scottish, English and other international folk-dance favorites. After parties would welcome treats and conversation long into the evening. New Years’ Eve dance parties were a special way to begin the year.

Jim is survived by his wife of 28 years, Lorri; his daughters, Kate (Don), Margaret and Anne (Jonathan); sister-in-law, Mary; son-in-law, Glenn; step-daughter, Mindy; step-son, Edmund (Kristin); grandchildren, Graham, Anna and Montgomery; step-grandchildren, Finnegan, Alexandra, Eamonn and Ronan; cousins, Mary and Linda (David); nieces Debbie (David), Judi (John); and nephew, Don. Jim was predeceased by his first wife, Betty; daughter, E. Wynn and sister, Kitty.

Donations may be made in Jim`s memory to the James G. Welch Scholarship Fund, University of Vermont Foundation.

A memorial service will be held at the First United Methodist Church in Burlington, 21 Buell St., Burlington, Vt., at 1 p.m., on April 14.

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