Howard Welch grew up working on the family’s farm outside of tiny Berwyn, Nebraska. He earned the nickname “Dutch” when he was a small boy, the term coming from a hired hand on that farm. As he progressed through school, Dutch quickly became well-known throughout the state and region, not because of his nickname, but because of his speed and athleticism. Simply put, Dutch was fast. While his athletic career was an unbelievable one—he earned letters in all four years of high school for basketball, football, and track, and earned all-conference honors in all three sports during his junior and senior years at Hasting College—these accolades were bested only by the legend that grew around his running. For nearly 70 years, Dutch held the state record in the mile, a race he never lost in Nebraska. At Hastings, he set conference and state records in the mile and the 800 meter dash and did so as a freshman. His running carried him from Custer County where he ran to and from school each day, returning home to the farm just in time to complete his evening chores; from his record-shattering senior year at Gothenburg in 1923, to the cold, windy day he broke the state’s mile record with pools of freezing water on all sides. And finally, from the rolling river valleys of north central Nebraska to first place in the mile at the National Interscholastic Track Meet in Chicago where he beat 53 other runners from all over the country in rain-soaked conditions. Dutch’s fleetness of foot and incredible exploits are visible in the poems of his son, Don Welch.
Following college, Dutch embarked on a historic coaching career in which he trained many record-breaking runners of his own and led numerous high school football and basketball teams to district and state championships over the years. Staggeringly, his legend in Nebraska athletics only seemed to grow with each passing season. Once he and his wife, Genevieve, had established their family in Columbus, Nebraska, Dutch made the heart-wrenching decision to walk away from coaching, embarking on a successful career with an automobile dealership. Dutch was also an outdoorsman, where he competed with nature as a hunter and fisherman. Many of Don’s poems celebrate the swiftness of his father with recollections and images that capture the energy of the man who was Dutch as well as the river worlds around him--the worlds he raced past, harvested, and loved. Don's body of work is lush with both overt and sly tributes to his father, weaving colorful images of the high plains landscape and undulated hills of the countryside with breathtaking depictions of his father’s immense grip on life. Few midwestern poets of any generation have lauded the land, its people, and life force with the clarity and consistency of Don Welch. As we continue to study Welch’s inexhaustible and still-appearing works, Dutch’s place in his son’s poetry looms larger still, inevitably gaining speed.