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Jack Welch

Jack Welch, male Citizen of the Year, rests in the woods the day after Christmas, before leading a snowshoe hike with 15 participants at Fort Tuthill. (Betsey Bruner/Arizona Daily Sun)

While Jack Welch was out walking the walk, his friends were talking the talk on his behalf.

Welch, a fixture on local trails and sidewalks for both recreation and transportation, has been named the Arizona Daily Sun's 2009 male Citizen of the Year for his extensive work advocating for what those in the know would call "multi-modal transportation."

He walks and hikes. He rides his bicycle and pulls up a seat on the city bus. He even snowshoes. He drives a car, too, but Welch is often self-powered, and he loves to see others move around in ways that don't require a steering wheel.

So instead of solo journeys, he invites people of all ages and athletic abilities to join him on low-key hikes, strolls and rides. He also guides policy by sitting on several local commissions and boards that take on transportation, recreation and outdoors stewardship.

Welch's honor came at the suggestion of several citizens and was then confirmed by a panel of previous Citizen of the Year winners. And it backs up the Volunteer of the Year award he won this year in the Daily Sun's reader-chosen Best of Flag contest.

That notwithstanding, "I'm not too sure what to make of all that," he said.

"There's a lot of folks in this town who do a lot of nice things for other people and have been doing it for more years than I've even lived here," said Welch, who retired to Flagstaff in 1998 after a life in St. Louis.

GO, DO, BE

Welch says his motto is one word: participate.

"Let's don't sit and watch. Let's go do. You don't have to be a superstar to do. Just be adequate and keep trying and do the best you can," he said. "Participate -- don't be someone who watches and wishes, just do it. Sure, you're gonna look foolish sometimes. Sure, you're not gonna do very well at some things, but just do it."

Welch "does" plenty: He is active with the local pedestrian and bicycle advisory committees, the Flagstaff Biking Organization, and commissions for parks and recreation and sustainability. He's on the task force for the Flagstaff senior games, walks children to school, and leads group treks along city streets and the Flagstaff Urban Trails System. He's among the Friends of Northern Arizona Forests, the Friends of Rio de Flag and the Friends of Coconino County. He organized a campaign to get people to ride bikes to the last county fair, writes a regular "Trailheads" column for the Daily Sun and leads outdoors-themed chats at the Thorpe Park Community & Senior Center. He said he especially likes gleaning knowledge and trivia from the people he meets along the way.

Right now, he's booking snowshoe trips and taking some of his walks to the indoor track at the Aquaplex. He's a man for all seasons.

A PERSONABLE ADVOCATE

Welch said he's not a great athlete, but he's determined. He has, however, pulled back on his mountain biking, saying his 72 years are catching up with him.

"I'm getting old," he laughed. "I can't fall down anymore."

So he is upright, in more ways than one.

Anthony Quintile, who manages the local Absolute Bikes shop and sits on the Flagstaff Biking Organization board of directors with Welch, said that Welch is ever-present. He's up for the little things, like fetching lunch for crews during trail days, or sharing opinions on progressive ways to make Flagstaff a more walkable and bikeable community.

"He's not just a helper-guy. He's an advocate. He'll make sure a point of view is understood and heard," Quintile said. "I think that's vital and I think it's good to come from a guy of his generation at this point, because we need to be counting on those folks for that wisdom of years."

Quintile said Welch is personable, accessible, and if he has any problems, it's squeezing in all of his meetings.

"I've been trying to get him to get over that whole 'humble' thing for a while," he chuckled.

A CONSISTENT PRESENCE

Kim Austin, who coordinates the Safe Routes to School program for the Coconino County Health Department, started a "walking school bus" at Thomas Elementary School last spring with Welch's help.

Austin said Welch is there every step of the way. When her daughter started kindergarten this year, Austin's mommy logistics often kept her from walking with the group, so Welch did the weekly ambles through Lower Greenlaw himself.

"While there are some great people -- a lot of great people -- in town, he's very consistent," said Austin, who also works with Welch on related Safe Kids Coconino County activities. "He's always there, always helping."

Steve Hirst, who leads interpretive hikes with his wife Lois, frequently collaborates with Welch when planning forest walks, sometimes setting them up to follow each other.

"He's an inspiration to me, really," said Hirst -- himself no slouch at 70 with his own frequent outings and volunteer courtesy patrolling at Snowbowl. "He does what he does because he believes in it. He loves doing it. Who could ask for more?"

Hillary Davis can be reached at hdavis@azdailysun.com or 556-2261.

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