"I came back to Washington and became an editor for the American Political Science Association. Ed Welch was working across town in the White House, but we never knew each other.
"At the American Political Science Association, we did the first book done in the Washington, D.C., area by primitive computer. We had keypunch operators and proofs that weighed several pounds. I thought, 'This is supposed to be better?'
"When we were living in the Midwest, there was a fledgling computer department and one of the geeks wrote a program to analyze interviews I'd done for my Ph.D. Computers weren't used for that yet. They were as big as small refrigerators.
"I actually passed my doctoral language exam in computer language. It was considered a language back then.
"I was teaching at Wesleyan when Jay Rockefeller was the school president. I was on the search committee and we were having trouble. When Jay lost to Arch [Moore] that first time, I called Bill Watson, his campaign manager. I said, 'I know he wants to stay in West Virginia. Do you think he would consider being president of Wesleyan for a couple of years?' Bill said, 'Stay there. Don't go away.' And the rest is history.
"Jay never had any money on him. People in the cafeteria line always had to loan him money. We were standing in the Pittsburgh airport on a recruiting trip. I was rummaging in my change purse trying to find a dime so Jay Rockefeller could get into a stall in the men's room.
"People at Wesleyan liked Jay, and he will tell you those were four of the best years of his life.
"Ed and I met when we were both on the faculty at Wesleyan. I'm Appalachian and I talk with my hands and I'm very emotional. I walked into the faculty lounge at Wesleyan waving the college paper and yelling, 'What idiot gave this interview to the paper?' This tall, lanky guy rose up and said, 'I am Ed Welch and I gave that interview to the students.' I backed out with my foot in my mouth. We didn't exchange many words that particular year.
"The second year, he was voted professor of the year by the students. And guess who came in second? That didn't endear him to me either. They did vote me professor with the best sense of humor. I never figured that out. I take everything too seriously. Ed is just the opposite. He's calm and methodical. He takes people as they are and thinks problems are there to be solved. I think the problems shouldn't be there in the first place.
"When we met, we were married to other people. As faculty people at Wesleyan, we did a lot of writing projects. We wrote Jay's whole inauguration ceremony. We had to drive across state to Bethany College, where Cecil Underwood was president, to borrow Bethany's mace for Jay's ceremony. You can imagine what a big laugh Cecil got out of loaning Jay Rockefeller his mace.
"Jay and I were working on a project one time, and I told him, 'You could be on a yacht in the Mediterranean instead of doing what we're doing.' And he said with a look of horror on his face, 'I can't think of anything more boring than being on a yacht in the Mediterranean.'
"By the time Ed and I left Wesleyan, we had worked together closely. We kept in touch. Both our marriages broke up, and we ended up marrying. I guess more sparks flew that first day than I realized. We've been married 35 years.
"I started my Ph.D at the University of Maryland. I was going to do my dissertation on 'Body Language in Faulkner's Novels.' Then one day I was walking across campus at Maryland and heard these two people talking, and I thought, they're Appalachian. I recognized their accents. I decided to find an adviser who would let me write a dissertation on Appalachia.
"I eventually did 165 hours of interviews here in the hills of West Virginia. The worst problem I had was out-of-state license plates. I had to convince people I was a native. One lady tested me. She was in her garden. She told me to go up on the porch and bring back a poke. When I came back with a paper bag, she said 'Yes, you are a West Virginian. People from out of state never know what a poke is.'
"We lived in Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin before we came here in 1989. The house hadn't been lived in for a couple of years. It was dark inside, the paint and the woodwork. Outside was painted a tomato red. The best thing I did as far as neighbors were concerned is paint the house white with yellow shutters.
"The former presidents hadn't made the greatest impression on Charleston, so we had to get people to trust us, even to getting faculty to come to the president's house. They thought we'd be like some of the others, using UC to pad their resumes. We had trouble getting people to realize we were not going anywhere.
"The only time I thought about leaving was about four years into our time here when we got ready to build a new dorm and neighbors got it in their heads that we were ruining the neighborhood. They went to City Council trying to stop these construction projects. There were personal attacks.
"A school in a neighboring state had been after Ed. I got him to take a weekend and visit the campus. On the way back, I looked at the set of that jaw and knew it was a wasted trip. We were going to bite the bullet and solve the problems here.
"We built that dorm and others and the sky didn't fall in and the neighborhood blossomed and new people moved in to live near the school and property values have soared.
"In those early years, Ed got a bee in his bonnet to give an honorary degree to Betty White. She came to Charleston and loved it. She has been our houseguest three times. The first time, we had a party to introduce her. When the party was over, I looked around and didn't know where she was. She was in the kitchen washing the dishes.
"The third visit, she was helping us dedicate a building. We had a gathering here. The conversation turned to politics and world events. Afterward, she said, 'I just loved that. No one in Hollywood ever talks about anything important. They're afraid they will be quoted.'
"You've heard of the horse whisperer? Betty is an animal whisperer. The squirrels on this lawn never come near people. She sat on the veranda and squirrels gathered around her chair. When she was leaving, we were surprised to see two little squirrel bodies plastered against the storm window as if to tell her goodbye.
"Ed has dinner with Betty whenever he's in California. She used to send us funny gifts. One was a nutcracker shaped like a squirrel. Now every Christmas she sponsors a Seeing Eye dog in our name.
"One of the projects I'm proudest of is the Erma Byrd Gallery. It had been a library. It sat empty for three years, collecting junk. One day, I pulled on one of the gauze curtains with 50 years of dust and it fell on top of me, and I thought, 'This is one of the most beautiful rooms on campus and nobody knows it.'
"I went to the administration with this idea. I had to use every persuasion in the book. When I finally said we could make money on it -- as a small, private university, you are always trying to make money -- that was the magic word.
"It took me 18 months to collect the paintings, 162 paintings by West Virginia women artists. The gallery has brought in a lot of funds as a place for meetings and dinners and weddings.
"I'd like to retire sometime, but Ed says he is not finished at the University of Charleston. His staff just wishes he would slow down. He has made quite a reputation for himself nationally as being ahead of game in the changes occurring in higher education.
"When he does decide to retire, we will stay here in Charleston. The other Welch finally found a home. We were in China once, and a Chinese leader asked me where my home was. I said it was West Virginia. Ed said, incredulously, 'You have lived in Iowa eight years. Why did you tell him that?' Well, he asked me where my home was, not where I lived. Ed was a minister's son and moved around a lot. He has finally found a home.
"I said to him once, 'Ed, the problem is, you come from a long line of Methodist teetotalers, and I come from a long line of West Virginia moonshiners.' And that has made all the difference."Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.