Centenarian was private nurse to Twin Cities’ rich and famous

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | September 28, 2011 | 0 Comments

Ceil Nursing Picture

Being  “a little kinder than necessary” hasn’t spared Cecelia Welsch all of life’s sorrows during the past 100 years but it has brought joy to her, her family, neighbors and nursing patients including leading St. Paul families such as the O’Shaughnessys and Weyerhaeusers.

Welsch, a resident at the Little Sisters of the Poor’s Holy Family Residence in St. Paul, turned 100 on Sept. 8 and is still actively following Scottish writer James M. Barrie’s advice as she reflects on her life of faith, determination and service.

After growing up on a farm near Farmington, Welsch trained to be a nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul. During the Depression, she worked on-call as a private duty nurse.

Welsch married a St. Paul restaurant/bar owner and the couple had six children who all attended St. Bernard’s School. After 23 years of marriage, she discovered her husband was having an affair.

“He couldn’t make up his mind, so I wouldn’t live with him with a mistress,” she said. “So I packed his clothes and sent him sailing and I had my nurse’s training and I knew I could do it alone and I did. That’s why I’m here today.”

A single mother working nights while raising her children, Welsch found strength in her faith and her profession. “It took all my time to keep my home and cook and everything and make a home for the children, and they realized it.”

In the early 1960s, Welsch was assigned to care for I.A. O’Shaughnessy, the well-known oil magnate and philanthropist, whose name is on buildings at the University of St. Thomas and St. Catherine University. O’Shaughnessy was at one time known as the head of the largest oil refineries owned by an individual in the world.

For three weeks, Welsch helped O’Shaughnessy recover from pneumonia at St. Joseph Hospital.

“He was a very wonderful gentleman,” she said. “He liked me because I was Irish. And I was short — I came up to his shoulder. He put his arm around me as we walked down the hall. We’d go down to the end of the hall and he’d have a cigar.”

The job was not without benefits.  “I’d go out for dinner with him out to his house,” she said. “’Take the nurse with you,’ the doctor used to say. I tell you it was really fun.”

Welsch also cared for other prominent patients in the 1970s: Frederick “F.K.” Weyerhaeuser, an heir to what is now one of the largest pulp and paper companies in the world, and his wife Vivian O’Gara Weyerhaeuser.

F.K.’s grandfather Frederick Weyerhaeuser started the Weyerhaeuser Company more than 100 years ago when he purchased 900,000 acres of timberland from railroad executive James J. Hill. The company now owns or manages 22 million acres of timberland.

Welsch worked in the elderly couple’s Summit Avenue home — part of the time with her daughter Corrine Thielen. “They had the cook, the chauffer . . . and nurses round the clock. And they weren’t sick!”

She recalled accompanying the Weyerhaeusers to Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul and catching a confused F.K. Weyerhaeuser taking out of the collection plate after he’d just put in his contribution. “They were just wonderful people to work for,” said Welsch, who was employed by the couple for four years. “I enjoyed every minute.”

Since retiring from nursing, Welsch has stayed busy with card games, reading and keeping in touch with her 20 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren and the rest of her family.

“I’m so busy with everything, one thing after another you hardly have time to stay in your room,” she said.

Welsch attributed her longevity to independence, hard work, daily exercise and social involvement.

Thielen also credited the Little Sisters’ care. “I’m especially proud that she’s so vibrant and she’s still kind of giving me direction — well, she’s definitely still giving me direction,” said Thielen, a parishioner at Assumption in St. Paul. “She said she wants to live to be 102 and I said well, I’ll probably be in the room next to you.”

Faith has been Welsch’s life-long foundation. “The Lord was good to me,” Welsch said. “I talk to the Lord all the time . . . and the Blessed Virgin is real close with me. I always talked to her.”

Welsch said she is grateful to her family for how they’ve supported her. “I’m proud of them and they’re proud of me.”

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Category: Local News