Don Welcker loved life and he lived big. He rode motorcycles, dirt bikes, waterskied, wake boarded, hiked, biked, rode horses, fished, zip-lined, snow skied and snow boarded. He flew helicopters, drove race cars, skydived, and was a certified scuba diver – but his passion was surfing. Don liked to paint, he loved oysters, and going to car shows. And he loved Elvis songs.
On July 27, 2019, a large group of family, friends and co-workers – all clad in Hawaiian attire as requested – gathered to celebrate the short but superb life of this outstanding man.
Don was born in 1958, and was soon adopted by Jerry and Betty Welcker, who were more than 50 years old at the time. Don’s father did special effects for the movies, his mother was a surgical nurse. His dad’s friend, comedian Joe E. Brown, was selected as Don’s godfather, and Don was named after Joe’s son, who had died in a military aircraft crash in Palm Springs
Don’s father had been in the military and it was his dream for his son to follow in his footsteps. Don was sent to a full-time military school when he was nine and would only come home on the weekends. His father also insisted Don keep his hair short, but much to his father’s chagrin, when he turned 18, he let it grow as long as it would! And had no desire to join the military.
Don was extremely athletic, had incredible balance, and he was fast. When he was a young boy, he would walk the top of the block wall around the house and jump from garage roof to garage roof (there were three garages with a six-foot gap between each). He loved hockey and played for Valley College and the LAFD teams. He was so fast and agile the bigger guys on the ice had a hard time catching him. His nickname was “Flash.”
Don was raised Catholic but did not give his life to Christ until the 1990’s. Attending church was very important to Don and as a young man it was rare that he would miss a Sunday Mass. In his early twenties, Don took off a month from work to go to Europe with his parents. His dad had late stage colon cancer, his mother was legally blind and had heart issues. His dad’s goal was to bring “his bride” to Lourdes, anoint her with the Holy waters, and pray for a miracle to cure her. His father died shortly after they returned from that trip and his mother joined her loving husband nine months later.
Prior to being hired by the LAFD, Don worked in the data processing department at Prudential Insurance Company. It was while he was employed at Prudential that he met his wife. It was soon after his mom passed that he and Sandy married, beginning their 37-year adventure together. They adopted three children – two daughters who are grown today, and a three-year old son. Don and his eldest daughter excelled in equestrian combined driving events. He enjoyed volleyball, fishing, ice skating, snowboarding, and dirt biking with his younger daughter. Sandy has taken a lot of video of their son playing with his dad, and the family all together, so that he will have a way to cherish the memory of his papa.
Don only owned one cat while growing up. He loved his dogs and always looked forward to going to the county fair every year with his girls. There was a running joke in the house – if he worked more than a 96, there would be a new animal in the backyard. Needless to say, he did not work many 96’s.
Travel was another of Don’s passions, taking him to Europe, Costa Rica, and Canada, to name a few. During his fire department career, he took one month off work for three consecutive years so he could take his family on a cross country trip to explore the USA. His favorite place, though, was on his boat at the River.
Appointed to the LAFD on November 24, 1988, Don achieved certs in Swift Water and HazMat along the road to the rank of Engineer. His prowess at the pump panel was second to none, but like everything else in life, he took it all in stride. Age and the stresses of being a first responder never turned the hair on the top of his head gray – but you couldn’t say that about his mustache. And like Don’s father before them, much to the chagrin of many an LAFD chief officer, Don let his mustache grow as long as it would!
Celebrate the life of Don Welcker. Emulate the dedication he had to his first family at home and his second family at the firehouse. Don will most certainly be missed and definitely not forgotten.