By Jennifer Rash Davis
The Alabama Baptist
FORT PAYNE, Ala. — Some call it Dye Branch, others Dye Ditch, but no matter the reference used, natives of Fort Payne, Ala., who grew up in the area in the 1950s and 60s seem to know all the adventurous tales.
One of those natives, Bobby Welch — former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and retired longtime pastor of First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla. — has decided to take the stories to a new level with an official visual representation of those days.
“This is a heritage tribute, a tribute to the ordinary,” Welch said during the Oct. 29 annual meeting of Landmarks Historic Association of DeKalb County. “It is for the heroes of the environment — those who stayed and have been here through the thick and thin. They are producing, innovating, booming and doing what needs to be done.”
Welch, who most recently served as associate executive director of the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention (now Tennessee Baptist Mission Board), has technically been gone from the area since the early 1970s when his then pastor Dan Ireland at First Baptist Church of Fort Payne helped him settle into New Orleans (La.) Baptist Theological Seminary following a surrender to preach.
Welch was baptized, married, called to preach, licensed to preach, and ordained at FBC Fort Payne, and that all came after nearly losing his life during the Vietnam War.
A decorated veteran who received a Bronze Star for bravery and a Purple Heart for battle wounds, Welch was shot and nearly killed while in combat.
“Bobby is a miracle man,” Ireland said when Welch was elected SBC president in 2004. “He always felt the Lord spared his life for special reasons.”
For the past three years, Welch has been reconnecting to his hometown by creating scenes from the “boom” era of Fort Payne in papier-mâché style.
His unique life-size works of art led to the idea of a heritage piece he plans to donate to the city in the coming months.
Armed with stacks of old newspapers and magazines and his handy hot glue gun, Welch plans a 360-degree scene encapsulated in something similar to an upside-down aquarium.
Eight characters will represent various points of life for those growing up around Dye Branch during the boom years. But the characters are not fictitious, Welch noted. “The people who are the inspiration behind each character will see themselves but it won’t be obvious to everyone,” he said.
The heritage tribute will be his first piece designed for outdoor placement and will be in the city park or nearby, said councilwoman Lynn Brewer. “We are trying to celebrate our heritage and the people from Fort Payne, and Bobby is part of that,” she said.
Darlene Rotch, curator of Boom Town Makers Market, added that Welch’s work will remind those who see it to “never give up.”
“That’s what Fort Payne is all about,” she said, noting the city is headed into its next boom.
Welch agreed. “I smell good things here,” he said. “We’ve got enough boom spirit in us. This is a good place with good blood and Dye Ditch water in it.”