William J. Wellisch

July 3, 1938November 19, 2015
Play Tribute Movie

“William Wellisch…Here” A Man Full of Passionate Adventure July 3, 1938 to November 19, 2015 By Dr. Sharon Greenleaf La Pierre Copyrighted © 2015, All Right Reserved This is a short story about a passionate, caring man and the contributions he made during his lifetime. William Wellisch lived his life with robust involvement, fighting for the rights to express freedom, curiosity, and protection for the least among us. His great capacity to express empathy and to act on that emotion is what set him apart from the ordinary. Bill or Will, as many knew him at different times in his life, was born in Vienna, Austria on July 3,1938. His father, Max Wellisch (January 27, 1898 to January, 1973), was born in Lackenbach, a small Jewish settlement in what was Austro-Hungary where he spoke both German and Hungarian. Bill’s mother was named Zelda Schanzer, born in April 26, 1907. Both parents became US naturalized citizens in 1945. Bill was multi-lingual throughout his life, as well, and spoke German and Spanish besides English, often teaching English along his travels. Bill left Europe with his parents in 1940 on the vessel, Vulcania, and was listed in the February 19, 1940 Transport Census Index as Hebrew. They were the last to leave before the Nazis stopped such migration from Jewish families. They located in Minneapolis, Minnesota where Bill was given special language lessons to remove his German accent and to learn to speak English. Bill was an only child. His legal documents show no middle name, but he did use J. or Jeremiah later on in life….William J. Wellisch. Many of Bill’s extended family members were killed in camps during the Nazi occupation. This was a very personal and painful subject for him to discuss. He carried a deep wound in this regard. This affected his desire to fight for justice and to understand the human psyche more thoroughly. Bill’s resume shows that he got a BA Degree in 1959 from the University of Minnesota in Sociology, as well as a BA in 1965 in Secondary Education. In 1968, Bill obtained a MA Degree from the University of Missouri at Columbia in Sociology. Also, he had finished his course work for a Doctorate, but never did the dissertation. This set the scene for his professional experiences as a teacher at the college level in social science, social psychology, criminology, and death and dying. Bill loved to read, discuss, and write as indicated by his library. At the center of his core beliefs was his lifetime involvement in social and political goals to promote human rights abuse awareness, and later on in life his love for animal rescue. He had a sensitivity for people imprisoned in poverty and for those in circumstances where arbitrary and brutal laws left them politically oppressed. (As documented in the Red Rocks Journal, November 13, 1978). Between 1977 and 1984, Bill was a volunteer with Amnesty International. When Bill was 21 years old, he was arrested in Minneapolis for purposely violating a city park ordinance by distributing circulars and pamphlets on Loring Park property. It was all over the Minneapolis newspapers in 1960. Bill attempted to make his arrest a test case for unconstitutionally abridging rights of free speech and assembly. He did not get a permit to set up his soapbox. Bill was represented by the ACLU, and it looks like he won his case. The Minneapolis City Attorney, Charles W. Sawyer, wrote the following in his brief to the court: “…the law constitutes a restraint of free speech.” Municipal Judge Donald T. Barbeau ruled that the ordinance was, in fact, unconstitutional on grounds it “deprives the defendant of his constitutional rights and freedoms without due process of law, and abridges his privileges and immunities as a United States citizen, both of which constitute a violation of the fourteenth amendment.” It seems like William Wellisch was always in the newspapers. The Minneapolis Morning Tribune documented Bill’s itch to travel as a vagabond on February 3, 1962. Bill took a 12,000-mile, 17-month hitchhiking trip through Europe, the Middle East, and the United States at that time. He had a passion for adventure and loved to travel. His passports showed such places as Greece, Yugoslavia, Israel, Italy, Germany, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Portugal, Turkey, Belgium, Holland, Canada….to name only the stamps I could read. When Wellisch got to Roswell, New Mexico in December of 1962, again he was in the local newspaper. He called himself a “professional vagabond” for the readers. He taught English there in Mexican schools and then moved on to New Orleans, Louisiana. While in New Mexico, he tried to search for an old friend who was in the Air Force, Allan Wayne Schwartz, which is why he was in the newspaper. In 1978 , while teaching for Community College of Denver, Red Rocks Campus in Golden, Colorado, Wellisch took a year’s leave to travel again to Central and South America. He visited such countries as Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, down to Brazil and all countries in between. I now own a multitude of trays with slides of these travel adventures and hope to catalogue them in the future. Wellisch acquired one of the most extensive collections of antique Molas from the Kuna Indians of the San Blas Islands (Panama), as well as other primitive artifacts and textiles. He cherished these art pieces as a love for other cultures and peoples of the world and displayed them in his home for many years. They were his treasures. After his death in 2015, his friends and fans distributed these treasures in memory of their love for him. Wellisch described his traveling adventures as “intoxicating.” He had spent four years in community development programs in Mexico, Venezuela, and western Colorado before going to teach at Red Rocks Community College in 1970. Wellisch travelled as a native, living simply, taking the cheapest ways to travel in buses, the back of a truck, sleeping in modest hotels, and eating in markets. He even slept in a jail cell to save money. Other times he “slept on church steps, along highways, and a city park in Vienna, on the floors of third-class trains, in haystacks, flophouses, and youth hostels.” One thing Wellisch never talked much about was his marriage and divorce to Judy L. Wellisch. They were married on April 6, 1968 and divorced in 1972 or 1973 in Denver, Colorado. After an exhaustive search for any records, none could be found. Bill kept in contact with her throughout the years and called to check on her right before he died. She got Alzheimer’s and was unable to talk with him sometimes. Judith had a daughter from a previous marriage, and Bill adopted her legally. She kept the Wellisch name, but he never talked about her. In later life, Bill became a wonderful advocate for animal rescue with an international directory of individuals who saved hundreds of lives. He brokered animals to be rescued, to be put into foster care and adopted, or rehabilitated. His efforts included older animals, injured animals, and neglected animals. This became his purpose and ultimate life’s passion and calling. We both shared this ambition. ON A PERSONAL NOTE William Wellisch was part of “The Gang of Six.” We all taught together for over 11 years at Community College of Denver, Red Rocks Campus in Colorado. We were each others’ families. We called him Bill. We sat at lunch and dinner together between classes, laughing, eating, and harassing each other, as well as the administration. We felt lighthearted and teased each other beyond normal. We all loved it and cherished each other without ever saying the words. We hugged a lot. This biography is part of a book I am writing currently about memorable people…individuals who lived life to the max because of a burning desire for adventure or who made extraordinary contributions with a sense of humility. Fame was never the reason for doing things for these kinds of individuals. Bill Wellisch was one of those very humble men who most people never really knew. He never bragged about his accomplishments and never talked about himself, his struggles, his pain, his honors. His internal passion was to do good and to explore the common environment of life between cultures, and he did exactly that in his lifetime, touching the hearts and souls of many students, people, and animals. The last time I visited Bill in the nursing home before he died, I was beyond depressed to see him like that. I thought I would never get those pictures out of my mind. It tormented me. But, when I sat down to write about him while everything was fresh in my thought, it became a blast to read his materials, to experience his travels through his words, to know him more deeply from his documentation in scrapbooks. His stories and photographs brought back wonderful memories of my own world travels and collected artifacts, something we both shared. He and I also shared the passion for animal rescue for many years. We shared the pain and joy of making societal changes through legal battles for equality and justice, as well. I feel honored to have known this man and to have called him a friend. He will be missed. He is on another journey now where none of us can follow. I am sure he will document everything for us when we get there.

Whenever I called Bill on the phone, he answered….”William Wellisch here!” Thus, the title of this story. The journey I have taken here with Bill’s memorabilia has strengthened my life’s work and understanding of myself. That was an unexpected gift.! It’s been a pleasure, Bill….

When Wil J. Wellish passed on November 19, his death went unnoticed by the world at large. No flags were lowered. No moment of silence was observed. But his passing has left a huge hole in the hearts of many animal rescuers across the country, who came to know Wil through his decades of devotion to all creatures, great and small, especially those of the canine persuasion. We all feel the loss of this wonderful, caring, humble man, who would probably scoff at the idea that so many have been affected by his passing. But rescue is family. So please, take just a moment, to remember or learn about Wil, a longtime link in the rescue family chain. For 40 years, Wil was a resident of Denver, Colorado. He was a Professor at Metro State University. When he retired after teaching for decades, he was able to pursue his passion, saving dogs. According to the Colorado Animal Welfare organization, for almost 20 years, Wil fostered dogs for some of the big name organizations in Denver. Over the years he took more than 165 of them into his heart and home, and then sent most of them to their forever homes. Yet our Wil didn't contain himself to helping the dogs just in his home state. Wil helped dogs from one end of the country to the other. Those who knew of Wil were probably first contacted by him before Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter were ever utilized by rescue organizations. Wil was old-school, and pretty much stayed that way. He used emails and Yahoo groups to network dogs, putting his personal touch on each one. Though he was in Colorado, his crossposting network of rescues, shelters, fosters, transporters and potential adopters stretched from state to state. One of the earliest emails this Examiner still has on file from Wil is dated October 30, 2013, and is about a three-year-old black male pit bull named Black Jack, who, at the time, was a resident of Orange County Animal Services in Orlando, Florida. Wil wrote, “Can you or your crossposting contacts help Black Jack find the stable and loving home he so richly deserves?” The next day, on the heels of that email, Wil passed around this email, “Great Update, a rescue group is taking Black Jack!” That was typical of Wil, always wanting to share whatever good news came his way. As those in rescue know, saves like these are sometimes few and far between. Wil would go to great lengths to help those animals who seemed in to be in the most dire straits. On December 4, that same year, he circulated a flyer for a dog named Bolo, who had lived on the end of a chain in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for eight long years. Even when he was the most distraught, reading about dogs like Bolo, Wil still held on to his politeness, his humane-ness. He wrote these words, “Even in the world of shocking, disgusting, and utterly indefensible treatment of animals, this stands out. I feel so damned helpless. I want to apologize in advance for sending this out. On the one hand the dog deserves rescue and the public officials should be alerted to the harm caused by their policy. On the other hand some of you may not wish to receive such announcements so I am risking offending you by sending this out. Send the requested letters, etc. Perhaps you can accomplish thingz that the neighbors of the dog in Phillie have been unable to accomplish. Stay within the law but maintain an assertive stance. I count on many of you with whom I have worked to apply your ingenuity, courage and persistence. PLEASE SHARE .. perhaps one day this sweet boy, named BOLO, will be freed ... from his current plight -- look at the padlock on his chain!” He tried to save Ace, a dog in a high kill shelter in Hollywood, FL. “We have about one day to save ACE. I'm hoping to shake some trees in an effort to find someone who can take this charmer in. Therefore I am posting widely. Otherwise there will be another inexcusable death.” Once in a while he turned to Facebook, and posted on a rescuer's page about a former service dog, dumped in Elizabeththown, North Carolina at the age of 14, now neglected, starved and partially blind. There were three Border Collies in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, scheduled to be taken by their owners to a high kill shelter there. Wil offered to take in one or two of them, if they could be transported to him in Colorado. That was an offer that our Wil made quite often, to pay for transport from impending death to a safe haven anywhere in the country. Our Wil opened not only his heart and his home to the dogs he knew, but also his purse strings to those he had never met. Yes, Wil did have his own Facebook page, using it to post petitions against Whole Foods selling rabbit meat, saving the bees, the wombats, the whales, freeing lonely polar bears trapped in zoos in Argentina, an yes, even a few to help children, people with ALS, the homeless, war veterans. Because most of his contacts never knew he had a Facebook page, he only has 48 friends listed. But the friends he had on his email list number in the hundreds. And in May of this year, Wil reached out to those hundreds, again asking for their help. However, this time, it was far more personal. He politely asked everyone to unsubscribe him from their crossposting lists; at that point he had been receiving over 3,000 emails each day. And in Wil's understated way, he told his friends, most of whom he had never met, that he had a medical issue, quite possibly terminal. After suffering from an increasing loss in hearing over the past few years, he finally had a CAT scan done, which revealed a tumor on the brain, possibly cancerous, and fast-growing. Aside from some help around his home, and some transport help he might need, his primary concern was to find homes for his own family of dogs, two bonded pairs, and a senior gal named Trinity, who he said, “lets her presence be known by grumpy snarls, but is actually quite gentle.” He asked that he be surrounded by his family, Trinity, Butch and Bella, Mama and Shi Shi, until the time came when he could no longer care for them. And Wil, even though he received this dire report, still took great pains to not hurt anyone's feelings. In the same email, he wrote, “Please accept my apologies in advance. I am deliberately sending this out without hiding the names of recipients, a procedure I rarely use.. This is done so that any recipient may reach out to others as I post my requests for volunteers to help.” And help they did. Though he was operating on faith, he was able to find homes for the dogs, thank the doctors for their amazing care, and apologized once again for omitting anyone from his email list. The epitome of humble. When the time came in early November for Wil to be transferred to Hospice care, the staff at Cedars Health Center in Lakewood, Colorado, became immersed in Wil's world. Over the next weeks, his best friend Penne McPhearson spent much of her time reading the cards and emails sent to Wil from his rescue family, relaying phone conversations from people across the country. Wil was deeply touched by each and every communication he received. On November 12, Penne let his friends know that he had a good day. Over 30 people visited Wil. The room was so crowded they had to bring in folding chairs. He was very alert, but in no pain. Wil was in “the window” a short period time when he was present and alert. Butch and Bella had spent some time at the hospice visiting Wil. Bella walked into his room, jumped on his bed and started snuggling with him. Butch enjoyed laying at his feet. On November 19, they let us know Wil's time had come. “It is 1 AM Denver time. Wil just left us. He is once again playing with Chance in a wonderful place where there are no tears. Nancy R. Benevento-Brown from Island Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary, Inc. wrote this lovely poem for Wil: There are no leashes where he is at no collars, no tags not even a hat. He sits with the angels and all the furry friends and tells them the story of how some lives must end. He tells all who surround him How much he was loved and passes it on to all playing above. Of all of the people that rescued he knew are now directly bonded to more than a few. All because he helped them and showed them the way. And that is why he is there.. Today was the day... So, together we helped him gently climb up.. that high ridge. Find peace in always knowing "Wil is at the Bridge"

We know that when he reaches that Bridge, that all the dogs who passed on in homes where they were loved, instead of alone in shelters, due to the unceasing efforts of Wil Wellisch, will be there to greet him. For he is special... he is the heart of rescue. Unbeknownst to most, Wil had a page on LinkedIn. He described himself as a hermit, surrounded by furry-critters who smile. He listed his skills as coffee-tasting connoisseur, fostering goofy dogz, singing off-key in the shower, driving six blocks without a road map, talking back to the radio, nodding and smiling without listening and tap dancing on ice skates. His objective was to leave a print in cement. Wil Wellish, you left far more than that. You left your prints on hearts and minds. You touched our souls. In lieu of flowers, we have provided a list of charities and rescues touched by Wil over the decades, who would welcome any donation in his honor. There will be a Celebration of Wil's Life on Sunday, December 6, at 10 AM at Olinger Crown Hill Pavilion, 7777 W. 29th Avenue, Wheat Ridge, CO. Wadsworth. If you would like to attend and you are out of town, there is planning assistance available. The program is "Bereavement Travel Program" and the number is 800-224-4177. They have travel specialists available to help with travel arrangements from 8AM to 10PM Central Time. Let them know it is Olinger Crown Hill and the reference number is 2379. Thank you, Wil, for being the best friend to so many lost and lonely dogs. Your voice will never be forgotten.


  • Celebration of Life

    Sunday, December 6, 2015


William J. Wellisch

have a memory or condolence to add?

eliza chia

March 14, 2016

He was a wonderful neighbor. who always had time to chat. On our walks Chia and I miss seeing you and all your foster animals.

Lisa Petri

December 6, 2015

He is missed by so many and immensely by me. He was a great man.

Georgette Lebel

December 5, 2015

Dear Bill/Wil,
I know that you are not alone *looking* at all the WONDERS that have been said, written, prepared for you! Your LIFE was one filled with LOVE and these waves of love have touched many humans on different continents. Thanks to your marvelous friends for having shared with us some of your realizations. You have fulfill your "personal life history"! We will meet again. Love, Georgette/Julietta

Cheryl Hobson

December 4, 2015

We never met in person, but talked on the phone a few times and had many email conversations about changing times in life and animals in need. You are my hero for all the things you have done, tried to uphold and the many animals that owe you their lives. You are now at peace and able to play and romp with those furbabies now. I am sure you need your own cloud to accommodate them all. RIP Hugs to you

Linda Mickley

December 3, 2015

Dearest Wil, I cannot believe you are gone, but know in my heart that you are comforting the sweet animals who have gone to the Bridge before you. The animals have lost a great advocate, but the many people you have touched will carry on your work as your legacy. You will always be an inspiration to me. Although we never met in person, I remember our email conversations and the times we spoke on the phone. I will miss your corny jokes, too! Hugs and puppy kisses to you, sweet man.

Marta Stauts

December 3, 2015

After reading your tribute I understand why so many of us connect with you. I did not have the privilege to meet you in person but we got to know each other through the many emails we exchanged trying to save the weak and voiceless animals. I miss you already and will always remember you in my endless networking and the animals I foster.
Until we meet at the Rainbow Bridge. Thank you and Bless you.

Vicky Pfennig

December 2, 2015

Wil you were a true blue animal advocate saving the special needs dogz and the elderly that were overlooked by everyone else, thank you for your enormous heart. You will be missed and forever in our hearts. Enjoy the dogz as you spelled it. Hugs to you my friend.

lorraine sakli

December 2, 2015

Oh, Will, Will, thank heavens you were in this world to touch so many hearts and save so many lives. You are not, and will never be, gone from our hearts. You lived! And taught! And have so many who love you!

Lorraine Sakli

Carl Nylund

December 2, 2015

Wil, we never met in person but did rescue correspondence via email. RIP ol buddy...

Toni Phillips

December 2, 2015

Sir Wil of Wellisch! Precious heart. So easy to see where your passion came from for the weak and voiceless. Bless you!! Since you're there, today (12/2) a Bully girl from a TX shelter, a stray, will be sent to the Bridge. I tried to save her, offered her Sanctuary here, but Policy ... they don't release 'bite dogs'. Ever. I am beyond sad for this girl I named 'Arlene', which means 'A pledge'. Give her an extra hug from me, please. Tell her I tried. God BLESS YOU big time!! Til we meet up there ... Grateful for all you helped!! ~Toni