At 102, former Coast Guard Band member still entertains others with music

Ray Welch, one of the oldest surviving members of the United States Coast Guard Band, sits at the piano in the cafeteria at Fairview nursing home in Groton Thursday, May 26, 2016. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Ray Welch, one of the oldest surviving members of the United States Coast Guard Band, sits at the piano in the cafeteria at Fairview nursing home in Groton Thursday, May 26, 2016. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Groton — Raymond Welch still plays piano every day after meals at Fairview, Odd Fellows Home of Connecticut.

“If I make one person happy, it makes me happy,” he said.

Welch turned 102 on Friday and is one of the oldest living members of the first U.S. Coast Guard Band.

He grew up in San Francisco and joined the U.S. Coast Guard Band right after high school.

He was stationed in New London, where he met his late wife, Katherine Welch, formerly of Rosemary Street in New London.

They were married for 78 years. She passed away in September, shortly before her 99th birthday.

“Every day, they woke up holding hands and went to sleep holding hands,” said Gretchen Eiden, a nurse’s aide who took care of the couple at Fairview.

They had two children, both of which have passed away.

As a member of the Coast Guard Band, Welch traveled all over Europe and the United States.

He even met President Harry S. Truman, who he calls “Harry” in conversation.

Welch’s parents got him started playing piano.

His uncle was in charge of a band in Oakland, Calif., so Welch said his parents took him off the football team and put him in front of the piano.

He started playing at age 12 and took up the trombone at age 15.

He ended up playing both in the Coast Guard.

“I really learned a lot from my parents,” he said.

It's hard for him to remember specifics about his life, but he can still play “It Had to Be You” and “As Time Goes By.”

“Music is like magic for him and for everyone else,” said Dr. Edward McDermott, medical director of Fairview.

Welch said he feels fortunate to be able to play piano, because many can't.

It makes people happy, and that's what he wants.

If you mention his age, he'll ask, "Already?" Then he'll joke that he's ready for a nap.

“I’m over 100 years old, I’m walking, talking,” Welch said. “I feel good.”

d.straszheim@theday.com

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