Robert "Woody" Welch
Robert "Woody" Welch was born in Milwaukee. He grew up in the Merrill Park Irish Community. Welch attended Marquette High School and Marquette University. After completing his studies, he worked many jobs that benefitted the Milwaukee community. He served on the City of Milwaukee's Fire and Police Commission and was its chairperson for four years. He was also the Chief Lobbyist for the City of Milwaukee for 13 years. He worked for Mayor Henry W. Maier as Staff Assistant and later as Director of Communications in radio and in the South Side Business Association. Welch served many non-profit organizations including ACTS Housing.
He has witnessed many changes in Milwaukee over the years. For example, he has seen gun violence go up and down. He remembers how a freeway system destroyed many vibrant neighborhood. He has experienced the loss of manufacturing and machine tool jobs in the city. Welch also witnessed the battles over the annexation of the Town of Oak Creek by the City of Milwaukee in 1960 that ultimately led to the creation of this city.
In 2000, Father Lewis asked Welch to join the ACTS Housing board. Welch had some knowledge of the ACTS Housing program from conversations with Father Lewis. Welch says he joined ACTS Housing simply "because Father Lewis asked." While acknowledging that many housing non-profits have come and gone over the years, Welch argues that ACTS has lasted because of its innovative organizational structure and values. ACTS Housing offers its employees a base salary with benefits. The organization ensures that they don't rehabilitate homes above market value because that would make the homes unaffordable for families in the neighborhood. Welch adds that yet another contributing factor to ACTS' success is the organization's decision to use private funding instead of receiving public money and grants.
He describes his experience and time with ACTS as “extraordinary.” The results of his team's labor was highly fulfilling. He didn’t need any plaques, awards, or acknowledgement. Today, Welch is not actively involved with ACTS anymore. He contributes as much as he can but feels that it is time for younger people to step in.
Robert Welch, Interviewed by the BLC Field School, June 2016