by Amanda Fanger, Reporter and Farmer
After spending years away from the area and traveling the world, it was somewhat of a shock for one Waubay man to move back to the area.
“Just like in the Wizard of Oz, there’s no place like home,” Loris Welch said. “I have lived all over the world and have never called another place home. Home is where your heart is and my heart is in Waubay, South Dakota.”
Welch joined the United States Army the same year he graduated from Waubay High School in 1981. He moved back to Waubay in 1992.
“When it was time to decide where to live when I left the military, the decision was pretty easy,” he said. However, after living near places like Denver, Atlanta and Frankfort, Germany, Welch said, “It’s a bit of a shock to move back to Waubay. It took a long time to get readjusted to the small community life again.”
Following boot camp and advanced individual training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, Welch was transferred to Fort Carson, Colorado, where he worked for a time as a mechanic. In 1983, he was deployed to the Mojave Desert in support of Operation Urgent Fury, also known as the invasion of Grenada. By the time the desert training was finished, the invasion had ended and he was sent back to Fort Carson.
When he was transferred to Bad Kreuznach, Germany, later that year, Welch said, “This was a huge shock for a small town South Dakota boy.”
In June of 1985, while Welch was preparing to leave Germany, he was involved in an explosion at the Frankfurt Airport that killed three people – two of them children – and injured 42 others.
“I made it home a little beat up, but safe,” he said.
Following the incident, Welch said he didn’t want to be in the military anymore. However, after a few months, he decided to reenlist.
“My second time around, I thought I would go at it a little harder,” he said.
He attended school at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and then was stationed in Georgia where he spent time training at Fort Benning and Fort Bragg before transferring to Baumholder, Germany. During his six years in Europe, he went on many trips, visiting places like France, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Holland and the United Kingdom to name a few. He has skied on the Swiss Alps in Germany and attended bull fights in Barcelona, Spain.
“I took full advantage of my time in Europe,” he said. “There is so much history there, and it was extremely enjoyable to go around (to places) I have only heard about through textbooks and had studied in school.”
Welch was on guard duty in Berlin in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down.
“I was stationed at a checkpoint where I observed the unification of the two separate Germanys,” he said.
Through all he saw and took in while in Germany, he said the best times were when his family would come to visit.
“I guess that was one huge advantage that Mom and Marv had,” he said.
With other sons stationed in world destinations, Welch said, “I know it was a highlight for my brother and me when Mom would come and visit.”
After leaving active duty in September of 1992, Welch said he went back and forth about where to settle in the United States.
His previous wife was from Georgia and he thought about settling there, but his mother’s health was going downhill so he was drawn back to the area also.
“I finally just said, ‘I’m going home.’ I was always a mommy’s boy,” he joked.
His mother picked him up from the Watertown airport that fall and he heard about a new casino being built by his tribe.
“I wanted to see it, so we stopped and visited at Dakota Sioux,” he said.
His career in gaming started that very night.
“I was hired on the spot as a security officer,” he explained. “My mom left me there so I could work. I hadn’t even been home yet and was already working!”
He caught a ride home with a friend later that night.
Welch worked just a month when his employers noticed that he would be a good fit for management.
“After only 30 days, I was already in a management trainee position,” he said.
He eventually worked his way up to the marketing director and took on duties as entertainment director and special events coordinator.
“The gaming business is a very unique business in that it offers the opportunity to travel and explore and meet people others would never get a chance to meet,” he said. “I have made some very good friends all over the world through working at the casino.”
Welch says that he has met hundreds of performers from all genres and is still in contact with many of them today.
“I can brag that all four of my children have met, eaten with or hung out with some of the biggest name performers from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s,” he said. Just to name a few, he added, would be Trace Adkins, Billy Ray Cyrus, Lonestar, Rick Trevino, Darryl Singletary, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, George Jones, Holly Dunn, some oldies standouts like Chubby Checker and Bobby V and rock stars like Survivor, The Who and Dr. Hook.
“My oldest daughters got to run around on stage, backstage and in most cases were even on the performer’s tour bus,” he said. “(The girls) got to hang out with another kid that was a little younger than they were…the kid that they played in the dirt with so many years ago grew up to be a huge star; her name was Miley.”
One of his daughters has a blanket signed by Eddie Rabbitt that says, “baby’s first concert.” Rabbitt died a week later.
While working at Dakota Sioux, Welch also did radio and television commercials. He was hired by a Sioux Falls company to do a jeans and cowboy hat television commercial.
“The comercial ran for about six months on network and cable channels…of course, that’s when I was a lot younger, thinner and good looking,” he joked.
Welch had his own morning radio show for a few years and worked with broadcaster Johnny Duncan.
“We had a blast, but went out on the limb sometimes a little too far and it caught the attention of the station owner,” he said. “But what a blast!”
After working in radio, Welch decided to create Loris Welch Entertainment, a mobile disc jockey business. While he worked various events, he said wedding dances were his specialty.
“For many years, our calendar was full and we worked about every weekend, often working both Friday and Saturday nights,” he said.
Last year Welch handed the business over to his employees, but said he stayed with them through the year to teach them the ropes.
“I am seriously going to miss the business, but it will give me more time at home,” he said.
Through his casino, radio and DJ career, Welch became fairly well-known throughout the state and he was asked numerous times to speak or emcee at events throughout northeastern South Dakota.
In 2003 Welch left the casino to pursue his own business in the construction field.
“Over the next eight years I worked with some of the best people and companies in South Dakota,” he said. “Working with these companies was like working with family, and it was very enjoyable.”
Welch received a call in 2011 to go back into casino work, but this time as general manager at Dakota Connection in Sisseton.
“It took a little bit to get back in the groove of casino life, but I caught on fast and moved forward,” he said.
Since getting back into the casino world, Welch decided to continue his education. He finished his gaming management course in May of last year and also attended the University of Nevada to complete certification in executive development and business analytics. He will graduate this June with yet another degree in applied management.
“I’m living proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks,” he said.
“Education is very important, and a wise man once told me that you’re never too old to learn and to get as much education as possible.”
Therefore, he says, he plans to continue with college after he graduates. He just doesn’t know what he’ll study.
Welch said before he moved back he hadn’t realized how much the community pulled together like a family.
“In a small town you have each other’s back and you look out for one another,” he said. While Welch admits that there aren’t always many entertainment options in a small town, he says it is a perfect place to raise a family. “If your child wanders away, someone would give them a cookie and a glass of milk before bringing them home.”
Welch said that he and his family are dedicated to their community. Welch volunteers to announce ball games, DJs school dances, drives school bus, emcees snow queen contests, works the city library Funfest, is involved in the Day County Fair, as well as works many fund raisers and benefits with his family.
“I have had a great life since I moved back to Waubay, and I would not want to live anywhere else,” he said. “When traveling around the world and people asked where I was from, my answer was always, ‘Waubay, South Dakota.”