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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Saturday May 18th 2024

Virgil Welna 1929-2018 Vast legacy by quintessential storekeeper and community elder

Virgil Welna has heard the last bell signaling another person to meet and serve


Born on March 24th, 1929 in Holdingford, MN to Alphonse (Al) and Anna, Virgil (Virg) Welna was one of six children. When he was in 8th grade, his family moved from their large house in the small town to a two-bedroom apartment in the Phillips neighborhood to ensure that each of their children could find a job and go to college. Upon his arrival in Minneapolis, Virg worked two jobs to pay his tuition to DeLaSalle High School: in the fruit department at the local grocer and at Dalsin Hardware where his father was the manager.

In his senior year, he met his beloved wife of nearly 67 years, Patricia (Pat) Farkell. Family lore tells how, once, when they first began seeing each other, Virg put his arm around Pat, to which she exclaimed she “wasn”'t that kind of girl.” She fervently regretted that statement during their four years of courtship as Virg, disciplined in all things, didn”'t even hold her hand again until they were married. However, if you ask any of the Welna family today, they would tell you that whether on their lunch break at the hardware store (where both Pat and Virg worked up until his death) or watching their great-grandchildren play at a family gathering, you would often see Pat and Virg sitting together in companionable silence, holding hands. His love for his wife was quiet, unwavering, and profound. Her bright, sociable nature and her ability to talk to anyone the perfect counter point to Virg”'s self-contained calm.

After graduating from DeLaSalle in 1947, Virg was accepted at the University of St. Thomas. To save money, he lived at home with his parents and paid his way through school by working at John A. Dalsin and Son Roofing Company. During holiday breaks, Virg would invite the Austrian foreign exchange students at St. Thomas to stay with his family. The relationships he formed with those students eventually led him to spend a semester abroad in Vienna, Austria, at their behest. His semester in Vienna served him well in the service when he worked in Berlin during the Korean War. In some ways, it was also his semester spent abroad that led him to open Welna Hardware with his father in 1954. He returned from Berlin intending to become a teacher, however, due to his study abroad program being the first of its kind in Minnesota, the licensing board would not accept the college credits earned in Austria and he needed an additional semester of school to qualify for his teaching license.

When his father approached him with the idea of buying out Russell Dalsin and starting Welna Hardware as a father-son venture, Virg”'s pragmatism and foresight led him to agree. He eventually went on to run the business with his youngest son, Mark. The Welna family now operates three hardware stores in the Minneapolis area. Virgil could not have predicted the ways in which that one decision would connect his family, not only to the communities they serve, but to one another.

The daily business of the hardware store was his quiet ministry. Each interaction with a customer was an opportunity to affirm every person”'s right to human dignity, respect and love. He was a man of deep faith who, through his selflessness and dedication to service, taught his children and grandchildren that we have a responsibility to care for one another, especially the most vulnerable among us.

In his 70s, Virg was diagnosed with Parkinson”'s Disease. He met each progressive decline in his health and ability with the same courage and humility that defined every part of his life. He passed away at home on April 8th, 2018 due to complications from a recently diagnosed aggressive cancer. He is preceded in death by his parents and two brothers, Jerry and Bill. He is survived by his wife, Pat; three children, Jim (Sue) Welna, Virginia (Joseph) Magner, and Mark (Cathy) Welna; seven grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; brother Donald (Harriet) Welna; sisters Lois (Joe) Mayou and Jane (Stan) Lins; as well as many other relatives and friends.

Jenn Welna is a granddaughter of Pat and Virgil Welna

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