In life, Matthew Welch was a kind young man. He was generous with his time and with his resources, especially in his community of Country Club Hills, Ill.
In death, he is making a difference in the lives of other young people who are still making their way in this world.
When Matt died in January, 2009 at the age of 32 after a brief illness, those who loved him chose to remember him by establishing The Matthew Welch Scholarship Foundation.
Matt’s father, Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight W. Welch, spearheaded establishment of the foundation in his son’s name. He thought that college scholarships in Matt’s name would be particularly appropriate, because Matt loved working with young people.
A graduate of Victor J. Andrew High School Class of 1995, Matt went on to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps. Upon his return, he served as director of the Country Club Hills Theater, where he was very creative in his mission to bring joy and entertainment to thousands of south suburban residents – especially the young people who were drawn to the outdoor theater for music under the stars.
A year after establishment of the scholarship fund, about two dozen college students are remembering Matt with gratitude as they hit the books on many campuses.
A teacher’s path
Tracy Callegari, 19, of Country Club Hills is one of them. She had a dream of attending Lincoln College in Lincoln, Ill. when she graduated from Rich Central High School. But her mother, a single mom, already had a daughter at Southern Illinois University and was facing difficulty financing two college educations. “The scholarship from Matthew Welch Foundation helped my mom a lot,” Tracy says of her award. “She didn’t know where she was going to get the money to send me away for my freshman year.”
Tracy completed the first semester of her freshman year at Lincoln, thanks in part to the Welch scholarship. She since has transferred to Prairie State College in order to be closer to home. She continues her work on an early childhood education degree. “I would love to teach preschoolers and kindergartners,” she said.
Reginald Edwards is attending Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville due, in part, to a grant from Matt’s foundation. He plans to major in elementary education and return to the Country Club Hills community to teach. A graduate of Rich Central High School, Reginald has lived all of his life in the city and has many ties here.
His scholarship was integral to his dream of higher education. “It helped me out a lot, as I don’t have any other financial aid at this time. My mom is using some of her retirement money to send me to college, so this grant is really important to me,” Reginald said.
A tale of two comrades
Matthew Welch and Anthony Wilcox seemed an unlikely pair, but they became close friends in spite of the differences in their lives. Matt was young, single and a former Marine. Anthony was older, married with three teen-aged children, and a first sergeant in the U.S. Army. They met through the U.S. Army recruitment initiatives that Sgt. Wilcox spearheaded in Country Club Hills, with Matt eager to assist wherever needed.
At Matt’s funeral, Anthony Wilcox served proudly as a pallbearer. None present at that sad occasion could have imagined that only a month later, Anthony and his wife Anita would die tragically of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in their own home.
And so Matt Welch’s legacy kicked in and put its arms around the three children of the Wilcox family: Cherell, Nicole and Anthony Jr. The Mathew Welch Foundation granted college scholarships to all three, and has committed to doing so until they attain their degrees.
Cherell, the eldest of the Wilcox children, speaks for all three when she acknowledges the value of financial help from Matt’s foundation. “It helps all of us, because college is really expensive now,” she said.
Cherell is a senior at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, where her sister, Nicole, is a junior. Their brother, Anthony Jr., is a sophomore at Virginia College in Mobile, Ala. Cherell is majoring in criminal justice and plans to attend graduate school in order to become a forensic scientist someday. Nicole is in a pre-med program and plans a career as a physician after medical school. Anthony Jr. is a business major.
The three have no other financial aid at this time, and rely on their extended family for some needs. Cherell works part-time and provides an apartment on campus for herself and her sister. Anthony Jr. lives with his grandparents in Mobile.
To their friends in Country Club Hills who wonder how they are doing since the deaths of their parents, Cherell says: “We are doing good, staying busy.”
The mission of the Matthew Welch Scholarship Foundation is to provide educational, training and mentoring opportunities for children and young adults in the Chicago south suburban region.
Our objectives are to preserve Matthew’s legacy of generosity and giving back to his community by:
In its first year, the foundation gave scholarship awards to two dozen south suburban students who sought assistance with the financial cost of furthering their education.