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Bill Wellisch, Teacher, Humanitarian

December 31, 2015
Bill Wellisch - April, 1974

Bill Wellisch – April, 1974

Bill Wellisch died on November 19, 2015 from complications from a brain tumor. He was born in 1938 in Nazi controlled, Vienna, Austria. I was told of his death by David Colson, a mutual friend, a few days ago. Our paths separated some time ago. That said, we shared several decades together teaching at what was first called the Community College of Denver – Red Rocks Campus – and then later, as a faculty union movement gathered steam, it was spun off to become Red Rocks Community College. Bill, a number of others and myself were a part of the Social Science Division whose department chair was Dave Nelson. It included psychologists Ron Courson, Walt Schreibman, historians Carla Joy and Alan Culpin, philosophy prof Humberto Mojica, sociologist Laura Valvatne, geographer Emm McBroom. There were others too that I remember fondly, Nick Ulibarri (who also died a few years ago), Judy Harrell, Annette Adlefinger, Alan Marx, Don and Cindy Redifer just to name a few. In retrospect it was a wonderful, dynamic department in which Wellisch, a Jewish refugee from Nazi domination, was one of the intellectual guiding lights, his family having escaped the Final Solution in 1939.

The community college system in Colorado, as elsewhere, along with Metropolitan State College of Denver, were – although few would admit it today – a direct product of the social movements of the 1960s and the demands of poor, working class people, Black, Chicano and Native American populations for free, quality higher education, nothing less. Red Rocks Community College in its heyday was a place where a person could get a quality vocational, commercial and/or academic education for minimal fees. It was a wonderful place to teach with one of the most diverse student bodies imaginable. A lot of Vietnam era veterans, divorcees trying to reorient their lives after being dumped by husbands, people coming off of drugs – or trying to,…not many Blacks out there in Golden, but a good number of Chicanos. What stands out to me now is how much those students wanted to learn. They didn’t care what a prof’s politics or religious background was, as long as she/he had something to teach them.

At Red Rocks, I felt at home, as if I were back in New York City. Frankly, had the system not been so undermined by the Republican dominated state legislature, I would have been glad to spend my whole academic “career” there. In the early 1980s, with the first winds of Reaganism and all the right-wing political nonsense we have to deal with today taking form, there were efforts to gut its academic programs. Our Social Science department was hard hit.

Bill Wellisch was always there, fighting for quality education for all, committed to teaching students not just material, but critical thinking. In his later years Wellisch worked with Amnesty International and was active with dog rescue groups in the Denver metro area. An extensive, interesting obituary of Wellisch is posted by Sharon LaPierre, former Red Rocks colleague and life long Wellisch friend at

One Comment leave one →
  1. Sarge Cheever permalink
    December 31, 2015 10:16 am

    Sorry for the loss of your friend. fsc

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