It is with a heavy heart I share the sad news that the Longbow world has lost one of the greats. Gerald (Jerry) Welch of Welchman Longbow Company passed March 18, 2020. His dear wife, Pat Welch, asked that I share this sad news, and that the Welchman Longbow Company is no longer operating.
Although Jerry and Pat touched the lives of countless souls either through the church or the world of archery, I felt compelled to share my story of how we met and the influence he had in my life.
In the spring of 1997, I had just graduated college and was on a solo Alaska black bear hunting adventure to Prince of Wales Island (POW). I had rented an outboard motor from a guy in Coffman Cove as part of my hunting plans. After seeing (and mocking) the longbow and cedar arrows in my Jeep, he suggested I go see the “longbow guy” in Whale Pass before I leave the island.
Toward the end of the trip I had made my way north up the gravel roads to Whale Pass and ran into Jerry and another man he introduced as “Chief” A.J. milling about in Jerry’s yard. Evidently, Chief was training to shoot a 200 pound war bow. The significance of the weapon and the magnitude of this feat were lost on the ignorance of my youth at the time. While there, I shot one of Jerry’s English longbows and I was amazed at the speed and performance of the all yew bow. We talked about bows, hunting, archery, Sitka spruce arrows, and his plans for obtaining doweling machinery. We exchanged addresses and I left the island.
Over the next few years we exchanged letters concerning the Sitka shafting. Unfortunately, the arrow production never came to fruition. At least not in bulk. Time went on and we lost contact.
Fast forward 10 years and I found myself living on POW with a new position in the Forest Service. I’d bumped into Jerry on occasion, but schedules never aligned for getting together. Eventually, I heard he was offering bow building classes and I jumped on the opportunity. He was retiring from his role as pastor of the Whale Pass Bible Church, allowing him more time to focus on making longbows and offering classes.
I explained to Jerry that the true, English longbow was the only bow I was interested in learning to make. The historic allure and the simple tools needed to create these bows was most appealing. He understood completely and we hit it off immediately. As soon as I finished the first English longbow, I requested to make another under his tutelage. That progressed into a third and the solidifying of a great friendship. With classical music over the satellite radio station, we passed the hours in his shop improving my knowledge of bow making and discussing all manner of topics.
From classic archery literature, characteristics of yew, archers and bowyers of the past, especially his mentor, Gilman Keasey, we covered it all. Shop time was rewarded with midday coffee breaks brewed with beans roasted in their wood burning stove by Jerry’s lovely wife, Pat. There never seemed to be enough time in the day to get all my questions in and I regretted when it was time to leave.
One of my fondest memories was working with Jerry on my last bow together. I had become just confident in my skills to be dangerous and all but ruined a premium stave with a careless cut in the bandsaw. As soon as I hit the pencil line, I knew I was in over my head. I reported the blunder to Jerry and prayed under my breath that the mistake could be remedied. He got quiet (not a good sign) and looked the stave up and down and went back the bandsaw. With a few deft passes in the saw and a new centerline, I was back in business.
I slowed my pace and went back to work. Disaster averted; Jerry busied himself on the adjacent workbench crafting a leather quiver along with a dozen arrows for a customer. Casually, he would discretely raise a brow as he passed by checking my progress. Satisfied I was past needing further intervention and in a lull of his work, he picked up a copy of “The Witchery of Archery” and began reading aloud while I rasped away. I had to stop and just listen. Jerry was mesmerizing both in skill and the spoken word.
From his humble beginnings in Oregon working from horseback on a ranch to becoming an OSHA inspector and logging on POW, Jerry lived a full and exciting life. His love of archery and the history of the longbow could only be surpassed by the love for his wife and God.
In the February/March 1993 issue of Traditional Bowhunter Magazine, Paul Forte interviewed Jerry. His final question asked, “How would Gerald Welch like to be remembered?”
I want to be remembered as an honest craftsman who did the very best he could, who produced a product that was enjoyable and beautiful and did it with integrity. I don’t think anybody can go out of this world with more than that.
You are remembered Jerry, for that and so much more.
My deepest condolences to Pat and the rest of Jerry’s family.