Bringing Ethnic, Scouting and Family Values
to the Mayor's Office
Georgine Welo was born in Cleveland on September 19, 1958 at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Her mother is half Serbian and half Slovenian and her father is 100% Slovenian.
She lived on Hale Avenue and stayed there until the freeway was built and her parents built a home in Willowick. They stayed there until Georgine was in 4th grade when they moved to Willoughby Hills.
When they moved to Willoughby Hills they moved to an old fish and fruit farm. There were about 6 goldfish ponds in addition to the garden areas. Her dad mostly raised fruits and vegetables because "he was a school teacher, so it was a way to not only feed the family but subsidize his income."
South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo
Georgine was the oldest of four children. Growing up, the area was still very rural. Her street consisted of 3 orchards, her home and an old horse farm.
She is a 1976 graduate of Willoughby South High School and then went on to The University of Akron. She loves sports and reading. She ran track, played basketball, softball and field hockey. "We had a great field hockey team at the top. Oh - and I got to run in the first female State Track meet after Title IX".
Georgine was also very active in Girl Scouting and credits the Girl Scouts along with her family upbringing with molding her into the person she is today. Part of her family upbringing included celebrating her ethnicity.
Georgine Welo dancing at the launch of the
Serbian Cultural Garden in Cleveland
"There wasn't much to do at my house and I'll be real honest with you, on the last day of school you cried on the school bus home because there was nothing. No sidewalks. No bikes. We had cinder roads. No swimming pool. No baseball. No softball. So with school everything ended. The one thing that we had that stayed consistent throughout the year was Girl Scouting and the cultural things from St. Sava's in Parma, which I still belong to."
Georgine's mother knew exactly how she wanted her children raised. She always expected the best out of her children and always expected them to do what was right. It was important that her children be raised with very strong ethnic, family values.
Mayor Georgine Welo awards the key to the city of South Euclid to a Serbian musician
Honorary Serbian Consul (and former Plain Dealer Publisher) Alex Machaskee joins the party
Girl Scouting provided her with many opportunities. After the 1974 race riots in Tulsa, Oklahoma she was part of an exchange with two Boy Scouts and two Girl Scouts from Cleveland going to Tulsa for a six week program.
Mayor Georgine Welo with Boy Scouts in 2004
It was a very competitive process and for the first time Georgine traveled into Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights for the interview process. She later realized it was because of the diversity of these two cities - something she did not have on her farm. "At that point in my life I had very little diversity in my life. Aside from going down to Hough occasionally with the Girl Scout troop, I didn't really know much about it."
This was the summer between 8th and 9th grade. She won the opportunity to go. The next hurdle was that she had to have a suit or jacket, which she did not have. Her parents did not have a lot of money, but recognized the impact this opportunity would have on their daughter and wanted her to be able to participate. She remembers that they went to Bobbie Brooks outlet down town and bought her a suit. Her beloved grandmother had also made her two suits.
She also had to bring her own towel. Her mother was worried about what people would think of them because their towels were old, so she bought brand new ones. Georgine says she never realized until much later the sacrifices her family made so that she could participate in this program.
Mayor Welo performs a wedding
Her parents, who had never flown themselves, dropped Georgine off at Hopkins Airport and she was on her way. The first weekend there she spent with a family, the Johnsons. Mr. Johnson worked for Texaco and they were a "lovely, affluent family." Georgine had never been to a restaurant before with the exception of the one time her maternal grandfather took the family to Manners. The weekend she was there she ate out often and was amazed at all of the new things around her.
The last day she was with the family they took her to a Baptist Church "which scared the heck out of me" and then to a Mexican restaurant as a farewell dinner. Of course this was food she had never seen before and Georgine felt completely out of her element.
The next day took her to Tulsa University where she had 3 days of diversity training and then received her assignment. She loved her new roommate, an African American girl from the Bronx. For the next 5 ˝ weeks Georgine took the bus to inner-city Tulsa to a church with about 120 African American children. "I don't know if Head Start had been formed at this time, but looking back on it now, that is what this reminded me of."
"I can still smell the basement. It was disgusting. It wasn't filthy but it was disgusting. Every day those kids came they were dirty. And every day the people there cleaned them." Every day the kids ate soup made from bags of mixed vegetables and water, along with day old white bread and apple sauce. "And what they ate - we ate".
South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo in her office
After the children were cleaned and fed they would go on a walk to the park and then to another park to the swimming pool, but "only the white kids were allowed in the swimming pool. And how they did it was they would only allow the children with towels to go in the water. So every day we would go there in a hundred degree weather and none of the African American kids could go in the pool."
This weighed heavily on Georgine's mind and she just couldn't let it go. She called her mom and told her she wanted to do a towel drive before she left. Her mom called her back and said she had talked to her father and they wanted her to donate her brand new towels to the towel drive. This was a huge step for two people struggling for money and who themselves knew nothing about this diverse world their daughter was in.
So Georgine made signs and started putting the word out and hundreds of towels came in. They wound up taking the towels to the pool with a bus because of the huge amount they collected.
The next day they went to the pool and passed out a towel and the kids were allowed in the pool. "At that point in my life I knew right from wrong. I knew. It was huge." As Georgine describes the phone call with her mom and the kids walking in with their towels there are tears in her eyes and her voice gets shaky. "I never really talked about this, but it was huge!"
After she got back, her parents got a letter from Irene Chabuta who wanted to come from Zambia Africa to America and live with someone who was an English teacher, like Georgine's father. Through the Girl Scout connection Georgine's family had been recommended and they agreed to have her stay with them for 3 months.
Awarding the Mayor's Cup
The house had three rooms so Irene stayed with the girls. "Wherever we went, people thought my mother got help. We would say 'are you kidding? This is Irene Chabuta! She has her Masters. She's getting her Doctorate!"
Georgine learned much later that threats were made against her home and her family. "And back then we had a volunteer fire department and the sheriff's department. My mom and dad couldn't get over the racism. But as kids we never knew."
In 1976, her senior year in school, they had another opportunity to host a young African American girl, Debbie Bell. In this case Georgine was surprised to find that Debbie was not used to the diversity of being with a white family, and in fact sharing a bed with a white girl. It was another awakening for Georgine. Once again through the world of Girl Scouts another life was affected in a good way.
Mayor Welo and friends at Ball
Georgine cannot help but look at her ethnicity and the Girl Scouts as being major forming powers in her life. "I played the tamburitza, danced the folk dances, played the upright bass, sang in the church choir, taught Sunday school, assistant principal, started youth group…" These are all things Georgine chose to be active in because of her upbringing.
Florine O'Ryan, her Girl Scout Leader was one of her mentors. Georgine's mom was a stay at home mom doing all of the many things involved in doing that job well. But Flo O'Ryan had an outside job- she worked at the bank and she had five children and she was a Girl Scout leader.
"She enjoyed life. No regrets. And at the same time she said you had to do things for others. So to me … it wasn't that she was a super mom or superwoman it was that she enjoyed life and had no regrets and giving back."
Her mom told her "When you get to heaven you say to God these two hands can't do any more than they have already done." Add Mrs. O'Ryan to the mix and Georgine says "My path was set!"
Mayor Georgine Welo and husband Carter
She met her husband,"he was the first boy who ever asked me to dance in a bar," back in the 3.2 beer days. She stayed home every weekend because, at 17, she wasn't old enough to go to dances or bars. One day her mother came home and gave her a fake I.D. - a birth certificate.
She told Georgine she could go with her friends, but she was too young to drink. Her mom also made her promise not to tell a soul. It was her first night at the bar, The Palace in Painesville. The Raspberries were playing.
Her future husband, Carter, asked her to dance, but it was too loud to really hear anything. She went back the next week, he was there again and she had just received her Akron U I.D. card so she showed it to him so he would know her name. (Of course she kept her thumb over the part that showed her age!)
Election Night 2003 - Carter and Georgine Welo
She went off to school and almost a year later he was with a friend who was going to see his girlfriend at Akron. Carter told him that he knew someone there - Georgine. He called her a number of times but she had never been able to hear his name in the loud bar, so she had no idea who he was.
Finally she talked to them and they made plans to go to dinner. They watched through the window until he appeared and she remembers being pretty pleased that it was him.
This July they will be married 30 years. "He is the love of my life and I am very lucky. He's just the man in my life, the guy I need. He has encouraged me in everything." They have three children, Nicole, Carter and Miles. Nicole is the lead auditor for Live Nation and lives in South Carolina. "I have two grand puppies, Charlie and Molly".
Carter is Developmental Director for Richard Fleischman Architecture Firm in Cleveland. Miles is at Ohio State. Georgine is also very close to her siblings; sister, Tianna and brothers, Mark and Mathew.
Georgine and husband Carter and family in 2003
In 1979 they moved to South Euclid and she has loved it there ever since. Her husband, Carter, started working at South Euclid True Value at age 16. By age 24 he bought it, and still has it to this day. He came home from work one day and told Georgine he heard she was running for council. She said no, there was someone else running.
As it happened, word spread and everyone was very excited about having Georgine run because she had been active in so many issues and city events.
Eventually she listened to all of the people encouraging her to run - and she did.
At the time a candidate was only allowed 4 yard signs. She was running against Arnold D'Amico and three council at large: "The Machine". She raised the money she needed and put out her four signs, plus 250 window signs. And she walked every street in South Euclid. She beat Stan Stein, who had been on council for 27 years. "I really admire Stan… He's a really nice guy".
South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo and
Lyndhurst Mayor Joseph M. Cicero Jr.
She was in Council from 1991-1998 when she stepped down to be Ann Mannon's administrative bailiff. She was also on Zoning and Planning - "just a commission". Then in the fall of 2002 a group of residents approached her and voiced displeasure in the lack of forward movement in the city. "South Euclid was no longer a WWII bungalow community."
She attended coffees that had been set up for people to meet her as a "focus group". She was astounded at what she was hearing and couldn't imagine how she could have been so out of touch. She was asked to dinner by a council person she never really saw eye to eye with and he encouraged her to run for mayor.
"He also apologized for everything he ever did to me and told me if 'you don't run for mayor my wife will never forgive me.' It blew me away."
Welo for Mayor Trolley
She went home and again talked to her husband. On January 3rd she called John Kocevar, current mayor, and told him she was going to run against him. In South Euclid you have to win by 50% plus one vote. The last two mayoral races had to go into runoffs. "Sure enough, I should have seen it coming; he put in a third candidate." She was the only non-incumbent endorsed by the Plain Dealer and AFL-CIO. She won by 50% plus 19 votes.
Election Night 2003
There were 1000 people at her swearing in at Regina High School. 2000 people wanted to come, but the hall could not accommodate. The rest of the people came to the reception. "It was so humbling."
Georgine has continued the grass roots nature of her campaign into her office. She talks to her residents, participates in their events, sends cards when they have something to celebrate (or mourn), and sincerely cares about the city of South Euclid.
Andrea Egan and Mayor Georgine Welo read Wild About Books to kindergarteners at St John Lutheran School in 2004
She spearheaded the building of The Playground of Possibilities. With 1500 volunteers, they finished the building in 7 days; 3 shifts, four hours. At the end it will have cost $250,000 and will be worth $1.4 million. The park is now completely paid for and none of it was pre-fab. "We cut every board."
Another source of pride for the Mayor is the creation of the Dog Park at Belvoir and Monticello.
Mayor Welo at groundbreaking event
These are examples of Georgine's strong foundation of who she is and what she wants - for herself, for her family, for her residents. She is firmly planted in reality and optimism - there is nothing she won't try if it will benefit her people. She has dreams for her city.
Mayor Welo cooking for the Adoption Network
For many years people have scoffed at the word "politician". Just thinking of politics leaves many people feeling cold. Most people think of politicians as corrupt and vote for the lesser-of-evils candidate because they think that is all there is to offer. Georgine is the politician other politicians should strive to be.
She also challenges people to be part of the system. "When your city says we are having a cleanup day - get out there and help." She says everyone must answer the call.
"If you are home … for more than 2 hours a day there is something wrong. They need you everywhere."
Georgine Welo answered the call and she has done a marvelous job. Now she is asking each of us to answer the call as well. If people were to put 50% of the time and effort into helping each other and solving problems that Georgine puts in, the world would be a better place for all of us.
Profiled by Debbie Hanson - 2009
Update: Mayor Welo launches the new Playground of Possibilities on Sunday May 31, 2009 in Bexley Park.
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