LIMA — Lima has been the birthplace or become a home to leaders with a fierce heart and the will to fight to become the strongest, best people they could be.
Benjamin Franklin Welty, who would grow to become a leader who made Lima proud, was born Aug. 9, 1870, on a farm in Putnam County, near Bluffton. He was one of 17 children born to Fred and Catherine (Steiner) Welty. Thirteen of the couple’s children lived to adulthood.
As a boy, Ben Welty helped on the farm and became a student before achieving success as an attorney, soldier, legislator and special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General.
Welty graduated from Ohio Northern University in 1894 and from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1896. He studied law and after being admitted to the bar in 1896, Welty began practicing law in Lima. In 1903, he married Cora Gottschalk, of Berne, Indiana, and the couple had a daughter, Jeanne.
In 1905, Welty became prosecuting attorney for Allen County. He prosecuted a wide variety of cases, from murder and theft to kidnapping and fraud. One of his cases is described as being a bit “peculiar,” according to an Oct. 30, 1906, story in the Lima Times-Democrat.
“Testing marriage laws of the state of Ohio,” reads the largest headline. “Bigamy case brings up questions. Prisoner testifies as a witness in his own behalf and tells of his life. Alleged wife No. 1 was not allowed to become a witness,” said the second headline.
“The circumstances of this case are peculiar, and even attorneys are divided as to whether the defendant can possibly be guilty under the indictment,” said the report. “The state recognizes no common law marriage and there is no evidence whatever of any marriage having been performed between David H. Bates and the woman, who claims him as her husband.”
In another case, county officials considered a written threat directed to Welty to be a joke. But there were others who considered the note as evidence that three men held for a robbery had friends who were trying to assist them, according to a Nov. 21, 1909, report in the Lima Daily News.
“The envelope was addressed to B.F. Welty, prosecuting attorney city, and read as follows: Feb. 18, 1908. Mr. Welty, Beware of how you deal with your comrades, lest you fall. Beware, beware, beware! The communication was signed with skull and cross-bones.”
Another unique case where Welty served as the defense attorney, involved Lima woman Minnie Murray, who was charged with being a fortune teller and clairvoyant, according to a Dec. 22, 1915, news report in the Lima Daily News.
“Mrs. Murray’s defense is based on the idea that spiritualism is a religion, and that she is a medium, not a fortune teller. Sara Douglass, social service worker, was the only witness called to the stand. She told of her trip to the Murray apartments and of having her fortune told for 25 cents,” said the report.
Welty asked for a dismissal of the case, but Mayor Standish decided that Minnie Murray had been telling fortunes for a stipulated amount, contrary to the city ordinance revised and passed in 1906. She was fined $25. Welty filed a motion for a new trial, but the mayor overruled it.
Many years later, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, Welty advised young men who were seeking careers in law to “be honest, completely and fully. If a man cannot be honest he doesn’t have any right to be an attorney,” he said in an Aug. 10, 1960, news story.
According to the same story, Welty served as Allen County prosecuting attorney for one term in 1910 and in 1916 was elected to Congress, where he served as the representative for Ohio’s 4th District, from March 4, 1917, until March 3, 1921. A Democrat, he recalls the hectic times in Congress just before the entry of the U.S. into World War I.
“The vote for war came on a Good Friday morning at 3,” Welty said. “Although I don’t recall the actual vote count, it seemed unanimous at the time.”
The U.S. declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. In a speech Welty wrote in the House of Representatives dated Thursday, April 26, 1917, Welty explains the difficulty of making a decision on a bill to temporarily increase the military establishment of the United States.
“At first I said to myself: ‘Was it not sufficient when I cast my vote for the resolution recognizing a state of war and placing all the resources of the Nation at the disposal of our Chief Executive to repel the assassin who has so foully murdered our citizens on land and sea and has destroyed our property without a just cause? Why should I now doubt the patriotism of the Nation by voting for selective conscription?’” Welty said in his speech.
Welty considered the American volunteer system’s history and found it wanting. He then questions, “How, I pray you, can we now meet this foreign foe unless we unite and organize?”
“The more I considered this question, the more I came to the conclusion that the selective system is the only fair and just method in a democratic form of government,” Welty said.
Welty, like many of his fellow Americans, shared the grief of losing a loved one to the war. On Nov. 10, 1918, the day before the armistice was signed, Welty’s nephew, Lieutenant Clair W. Welty, of Bluffton, was killed during battle in France, according to a news report.
Welty was also no stranger to serving his country in the military. Welty served as a private with the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War and later, from 1908 through 1913, became a lieutenant colonel with Company “C” of the Ohio Guard.
When Welty retired from military duty, the headline of a June 30, 1930, story in the Lima Daily News said “‘Fighting Ben’ Welty retires from the ring.” The story continued, “At his request, Adjutant General Wood today placed Lieutenant Colonel Ben F. Welty, of Lima, on the retired list. As Prosecuting Attorney of Allen County, Welty won the sobriquet of ‘Fighting Ben’ and he carried the title with him into the military circles.”
Welty’s additional experience included special counsel to the State Attorney General from 1911 through 1913 and special assistant in the United States Department of Justice from 1913 through 1915.
Welty also wanted to turn Ohio’s canals into transportation routes for barges, but the costs for having to widen the existing canals to accommodate barges was prohibitive, and his plans failed.
Welty continued his career as a lawyer until 1951, when he retired. He died in Dayton Oct. 23, 1962, and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Lima.
Reach Dawn Kessinger at firstname.lastname@example.org.