Merris and Jean Welge have always had an interest in helping law enforcement any way they can. Over the years, they have donated to several police and veterans funds, including the Buckeye Sheriff’s Association and the Washington Memorial. The Richland County Sheriff Fund they have set up this year is only their most recent donation of their time, money, and effort.
Merris worked in Downtown Mansfield for 25 years, where he saw firsthand how hard local police worked. He always admired how they put themselves at risk every day for the safety of their community.
So about five years ago, he contacted his neighbor, Rod Smith, Chief of Police for the city of Ontario at the time, to see what he could do to help local law enforcement. As a result, he and Smith worked together to order St. Michael pendants for each officer, as St. Michael is known as the patron saint for law enforcement.
Tommy Hill, the current Chief of Police for the city of Ontario, speaks fondly of those medals to this day. "I still have some of the St. Michael pendants, and every time we hire someone new we give them one. Some officers put it on their hats, but what they do with the pendant is up to each individual officer. It has become a personal token for each officer."
But for Merris and Jean, that wasn’t enough. They were continually searching for more ways to show their support for local police.
Merris approached Smith again, asking him what more could be done to help and honor local police officers. The conversation with Smith led him to the Richland County Foundation, who then helped the Welges establish a fund for the Ontario Police Department.
The fund was established with two main objectives: to build a memorial honoring police officers, which can now be seen in front of the Ontario City Building and to establish a way for the community to be able to show support for all that the police department does through financial support.
Merris and Jean have several reasons for giving so much to law enforcement. Jean’s brother served in the Vietnam War, and she is eternally grateful for those willing to serve. Merris mentions growing up during World War II, and how he was affected seeing soldiers giving their lives to protect the country.
But this still wasn’t enough for the family.
After establishing the fund for the Ontario Police Department in 2016, they continued by creating a fund for the Mansfield Police Department in 2017, and most recently, the Richland County Sheriff’s Fund in 2019. All three funds were made possible through the family working with the Richland County Foundation.
The entire community benefits from this single family’s donations.
Brady Groves, President of the Richland County Foundation, expressed his admiration for the Welge family, stating "Merris and Jean are leaders in creating a mechanism for people who want to support law enforcement in other ways than taxes. They recognize the importance of law enforcement in our community.”
Hill echoed Groves, stating "It is great to have such tremendous support in our community. To know that we have those who want to honor our current and former officers is something that we are very grateful for."
The Welges are leaving the specific use of the funds up to the police departments’ discretion.
Speaking about working with the Richland County Foundation, the Welges repeatedly expressed how easy and painless the funds were to set up. They remarked how the foundation really worked with them, allowing their desire to help and their vision to come to fruition.
Currently the funds are building up their earned income from investments to make the grant money fully available to each department. According to the Foundation’s Chief Advancement Officer, Maura Teynor, this can take up two to three years to achieve. As the grant money becomes available, the police chiefs and sheriff will work with the Foundation to allocate the funds to their best possible use.
When asked about potential uses for the funds, Hill noted "As I see us moving forward, I would like to continue to honor officers – past and present – and find new ways to grow the memorial or show our respect for those who risk their lives. I am excited to be able to do that with the funds."
The Welges want local law enforcement to know that they appreciate them and their dedication to their community. The family’s vision and hope is that these funds will prompt members of the community to get involved in assisting local law enforcement in any way they are able.
Anyone can donate to any of the funds simply by visiting the foundation’s website and clicking the “donate to a fund” button, or by clicking the button below to Donate Now. Any donations made through the foundation are considered tax deductible.
Donors who wish to make their donation immediately available to the departments should include a note to apply their gift to the spendable balance of the fund.