A found farewell

ebbie Welte can still recall Miss Edie handing over the keys to Cohox Rec Center to her nearly 30 years ago.

“I worked with the original woman who started the program and about a year after, she decided it was time for her to retire and she handed me the keys,” Welte said. “The day she handed the keys to me, I felt so overwhelmed and frightened and puzzled. And, I thought, am I going to be able to do this program justice.”

“Handed me the keys” isn’t just a figure of speech, it was a 2-pound keychain.

“This keychain had a key to every door in the building and some of the doors had two keys, one to get in and one to get out,” said Welte, laughing. “It also had little keys on it to lock equipment up when we weren’t there.”

Miss Edie, along with Miss Cookie, started and ran the program for 13 years before handing over the reins, according to Welte.

Welte, 60, known more affectionately by tot participants as “Miss Debbie,” enrolled both of her children into the Cohox Tot Recreation program, and when her daughter went to kindergarten, she had the opportunity to work part-time and took a position with the program that taught her own kids so much.

After Miss Edie retired, Welte took on the director position at the tot program and joined the advisory council and ran the program alongside Karen Cabibi and Irma Harrigan for about 25 years. Kirsten Kahlert joined the staff in the past five years.

“I was just grateful we were able to continue on with the program and make it what it is today,” Welte said. “We really worked well together.”

Welte lived in Port Richmond her entire life prior to moving to Newtown, Bucks County about seven years ago. The move didn’t stop her from getting to the kids.

“It took me a minimum of an hour to get there, at least,” she said. “I started out taking 95, but that was a parking lot going south every day, so I started taking Bustleton Pike and Bustleton Avenue. Even though it was a longer hike, it wasn’t standstill.”

The commute was entirely worth it.

Over three decades, Welte and her coworkers educated hundreds of preschool-aged children from September to May. Originally, the program ran two days a week, with two separate classes available. As enrollment declined through the years – upward of 70 kids attended the program during its busiest years – the program transitioned to a three-day-a-week, three-hour schedule.

Welte is appreciative she was able to run the program for so long, pointing to another River Wards program that folded this year.

“It was sad to see that one of the nearby playground’s tot rec program closed down this year because of lack of enrollment,” she said. “And, that woman did it for 40 years that I know of.”

With enrollment currently on the lower side at Cohox, and back-related health issues making it harder to give 100 percent to the kids every day, Welte decided last year would be her final year.

“It’s in capable hands with Irma and Kirsten for me to step down,” she said.

For Welte, running the program was never just a job, it was family.

“I had nieces and nephews, and great nieces and nephews, and my grandchildren came to the program,” she said. “And, there are second generations of children in the program.”

The bonds Welte formed with the children and their families over the years are one of her biggest sources of pride.

“It made me proud to know parents would bring their children to our program knowing we cared for their children and we wanted their first time away from home to be a fun experience,” she said. “When these children grew up and had their own children, some of them were so excited to bring their children back to the program they were in.”

The highlight each year was graduation time, with each child wearing a cap and gown during the ceremony.

“The graduation was a lot of fun, but it was a lot of work,” she said. “We always had each child get up and recite a song they learned in class. We’d have a prop for each song. Graduation was a fun night.”

Another highlight was helping out as an advisory council member with the preteen Cohox dances.

“I was known as the ‘pizza lady’ because I would work in the kitchen and make the pizza,” said Welte, laughing. “And everyone for some reason liked my pizza, and it was just the shells that you would buy. And the doors were locked, and the parents knew their kids were safe for two hours. And, it was just so much fun.”

As Welte moves on to the next chapter of her life, all the commutes to Cohox and hours spent practicing for graduations pale in comparison to the number of lives she was fortunate enough to impact.

“I love children. They’re innocent and they’re the future,” she said. “It’s so much fun to watch a child come into the program as a baby and maybe that year or the next year leave as a toddler going into kindergarten. It was so rewarding to know these kids remembered us as a mentor and enjoyed us a teacher.”

Welte plans to enjoy her retirement, spending time with her husband of 40 years and her children and grandkids, but the children at Cohox will never be far from her mind or heart.

“I really will miss the faces of kids. I miss Irma, Karen and Kirsten. I just love being around little ones,” she said. “I spent a lot of years at Cohox and I have no regrets. I loved every minute of it and I’ll miss it.”

 

ebbie Welte can still recall Miss Edie handing over the keys to Cohox Rec Center to her nearly 30 years ago.

“I worked with the original woman who started the program and about a year after, she decided it was time for her to retire and she handed me the keys,” Welte said. “The day she handed the keys to me, I felt so overwhelmed and frightened and puzzled. And, I thought, am I going to be able to do this program justice.”

“Handed me the keys” isn’t just a figure of speech, it was a 2-pound keychain.

“This keychain had a key to every door in the building and some of the doors had two keys, one to get in and one to get out,” said Welte, laughing. “It also had little keys on it to lock equipment up when we weren’t there.”

Miss Edie, along with Miss Cookie, started and ran the program for 13 years before handing over the reins, according to Welte.

Welte, 60, known more affectionately by tot participants as “Miss Debbie,” enrolled both of her children into the Cohox Tot Recreation program, and when her daughter went to kindergarten, she had the opportunity to work part-time and took a position with the program that taught her own kids so much.

After Miss Edie retired, Welte took on the director position at the tot program and joined the advisory council and ran the program alongside Karen Cabibi and Irma Harrigan for about 25 years. Kirsten Kahlert joined the staff in the past five years.

“I was just grateful we were able to continue on with the program and make it what it is today,” Welte said. “We really worked well together.”

Welte lived in Port Richmond her entire life prior to moving to Newtown, Bucks County about seven years ago. The move didn’t stop her from getting to the kids.

“It took me a minimum of an hour to get there, at least,” she said. “I started out taking 95, but that was a parking lot going south every day, so I started taking Bustleton Pike and Bustleton Avenue. Even though it was a longer hike, it wasn’t standstill.”

The commute was entirely worth it.

Over three decades, Welte and her coworkers educated hundreds of preschool-aged children from September to May. Originally, the program ran two days a week, with two separate classes available. As enrollment declined through the years – upward of 70 kids attended the program during its busiest years – the program transitioned to a three-day-a-week, three-hour schedule.

Welte is appreciative she was able to run the program for so long, pointing to another River Wards program that folded this year.

“It was sad to see that one of the nearby playground’s tot rec program closed down this year because of lack of enrollment,” she said. “And, that woman did it for 40 years that I know of.”

With enrollment currently on the lower side at Cohox, and back-related health issues making it harder to give 100 percent to the kids every day, Welte decided last year would be her final year.

“It’s in capable hands with Irma and Kirsten for me to step down,” she said.

For Welte, running the program was never just a job, it was family.

“I had nieces and nephews, and great nieces and nephews, and my grandchildren came to the program,” she said. “And, there are second generations of children in the program.”

The bonds Welte formed with the children and their families over the years are one of her biggest sources of pride.

“It made me proud to know parents would bring their children to our program knowing we cared for their children and we wanted their first time away from home to be a fun experience,” she said. “When these children grew up and had their own children, some of them were so excited to bring their children back to the program they were in.”

The highlight each year was graduation time, with each child wearing a cap and gown during the ceremony.

“The graduation was a lot of fun, but it was a lot of work,” she said. “We always had each child get up and recite a song they learned in class. We’d have a prop for each song. Graduation was a fun night.”

Another highlight was helping out as an advisory council member with the preteen Cohox dances.

“I was known as the ‘pizza lady’ because I would work in the kitchen and make the pizza,” said Welte, laughing. “And everyone for some reason liked my pizza, and it was just the shells that you would buy. And the doors were locked, and the parents knew their kids were safe for two hours. And, it was just so much fun.”

As Welte moves on to the next chapter of her life, all the commutes to Cohox and hours spent practicing for graduations pale in comparison to the number of lives she was fortunate enough to impact.

“I love children. They’re innocent and they’re the future,” she said. “It’s so much fun to watch a child come into the program as a baby and maybe that year or the next year leave as a toddler going into kindergarten. It was so rewarding to know these kids remembered us as a mentor and enjoyed us a teacher.”

Welte plans to enjoy her retirement, spending time with her husband of 40 years and her children and grandkids, but the children at Cohox will never be far from her mind or heart.

“I really will miss the faces of kids. I miss Irma, Karen and Kirsten. I just love being around little ones,” she said. “I spent a lot of years at Cohox and I have no regrets. I loved every minute of it and I’ll miss it.”