With good-guy Harry Welty, what you see is what you get
FEBRUARY '94 cover profile

By JEFF POTTS, Twin Ports People Editor

In a fairly quiet residential neighborhood in East Duluth resides one of the city's most unique individuals.

You may know him as an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in 1992, or as an unsuccessful candidate for the Duluth school board in 1989, 1991, and in 1993.

For Harry Robb Welty, however, success is not defined by the number of political contests won. It is defined by quality of life, and in that sense Welty can claim uncontested victory.

Few people pursue life with the thirst for knowledge and unbridled enthusiasm of this self-proclaimed seeker of truth This former school teacher turned free-lance writer has made his life's quest a search to find out why things are the way they are.

"I wonder how we could have avoided Bosnia, how schools can do a better job of educating kids, how can have efficient government that doesn't drive into debt so deep we'll never get out, and how we can stop more and more people from sliding into poverty," he says.

"I live with the full expectation that most of my questions will remain unanswered. But that doesn't mean I'm going to go watch television and let the rest of the world pass me by."

On the contrary, since losing his teaching job in 1987, Welty has devoted much of his time to pursuing knowledge to achieve wisdom, as he explains it. His library has hundreds of books on subjects ranging from religion to government to history. Many of the books have been started, few have been finished - but they will be.

By his own admission he has too many irons in the fire, and has always been interested in too many things at once. Even now he takes care of the Weltys two children while his wife holds down a full time job. He is heavily involved in a program to encourage school age kids to read more, advises an Odyssey of the Mind group at Chester Park School, and is also planning the school carnival later this year. In his spare time Welty is writing a book about the Duluth School District, a topic that's been very near and dear to his heart for many years.

"Even only a half dozen people read the book, I'll be happy,' he says.

"I want to turn over every stone I can and I know I'll die regretting every one I couldn't get to."-Harry Welty. 1994

"It will be there for the record. I have encountered some things people have been afraid to talk about, but the fact of the matter is there has been a great deal of suspicion and rumor concerning the school board for many years."

In Welty's opinion, too many people these days are willing to set aside the really difficult issues to pursue the inconsequential. That's what's wrong with the system, and that's why he has endeavored to do something about it

"If we never confront an issue we never solve it," he says. "Right now most politicians are not confronting hard reality. I believe most politicians think their first priority is to get re-elected, and part of that process is not offending people. Because no one wants to offend the voters, the big problems continue to mushroom."

As a candidate Welty has been unable to convince voters he could make a difference, but he has also failed to convince himself that he can't.

"Don't get me wrong; he says. "I would love to win. I think I could make a great contribution to the school board, but maybe it isn't all that important that I win. I think I've made people stop and think about the issues, and I feel good about that. Sure, I'm frustrated, but remember I'm not done yet."

Welty refuses to commit to a fourth try at school board, although he firmly believes he can win, campaigning puts a strain on himself and his family. Besides he says, some of the worlds most influential people were never elected to public office.

"Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, none of those people were ever elected, but they made huge impacts on the world as we know it," Welty reflects. I'm not sure it's critical to be elected in order to make a difference."

Welty firmly believes he can make a difference, and time could well prove him right Determination can carry a person far, and Welty has an abundance of it

"If I don't understand something I get frustrated he says. "I want to turn over every stone I can and I know I'll die regretting every one I couldn't get to. I can't imagine not being curious, not seeking answers to everything."

If you chance to enter into a conversation with Welty, be prepared. He likes all the cards on table and isn't afraid to challenge or be challenged. He loves to disagree, discuss, and find a common ground and build on that. He enjoys being forced to examine what he believes in., and he seldom leaves well enough alone. Quoting Voltaire one minute and Yogi the next, Welty isn't satisfied with a stock answer. He wants the truth, or as close to it as he can get to it in this lifetime.

"I think it's part of human nature to want an answer to an issue that's good enough to allow
you to put it on the shelf" he says. "You know, like rich white guys are this, and poor black people are this, and television preachers are this. I just don't buy that - people are too complex. l feel that if as a result of my campaigning people want to know a little more about me, I've accomplished something."

If you think Harry is taking himself too seriously, think again. There's another part of H.R. Welty we haven't touched on yet. It's his way of reminding himself life isn't always the hot pursuit of the truth. Sometimes it's just the cold pursuit of snow and water - as in snow sculpting. You may have seen the giant Santa Claus bust on the corner of 21st Avenue East and 4th Street this winter. Or maybe it's been the dinosaurs and gorillas of the past couple of years. Maybe you even remember the King Kong assaults the central Administration building sculpture of 1991. Over the years, Welty's talents with ice and snow have probably generated
as much notoriety as his political campaigns.

It all started in 1997, when on a whim he took advantage of an wet and heavy March snowfall to create an Easter Bunny. The following year, after moving to east Duluth, the Welty children wanted a dinosaur.

Its become the stuff of legends, but year after year Harry continues to marvel Duluthians with his handiwork, although this year he feels he may have let his fans' down.

"Last year's Bill Clinton with the saxophone was a tough one to top," he admits. Welty's Clinton appeared in several newspapers around the county after the local paper circulated the photo.

I'm not sure what the kids think of it now," he says 'It may be a kind of cross for them to bear,
but I do enjoy doing it."

It's just another challenge for this remarkable Duluthian who refuses to compromise his principles, is committed to making Duluth a better to live, and gives anyone willing to listen a
perspective on life.