Jenna Hawkins Welch, beloved wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and friend, passed away on May 10, 2019, in Midland, Texas, at the age of 99.
The only child of Jesse and Hal Hawkins, Mrs. Welch was a true daughter of West Texas - a woman who loved its people, its wildlife, and its land. Born on July 24, 1919, in Little Rock, Arkansas, she was raised in Canutillo, outside of El Paso, Texas, one block from the banks of the Rio Grande. Jenna Hawkins was ten when the Great Depression hit. Almost daily, she watched carloads of Midwesterners and Southerners pass by along Highway 80, fleeing both the Depression and the Dust Bowl for the promise of a better life in California. Her parents ran a "tourist court" of one-room cottages that surrounded a single communal bathroom, where travelers could stop to sleep, shower, and buy a few provisions before moving on.
Jenna Hawkins loved school and reading, a passion she would later nurture in her daughter, Laura. Although she came of age during the Depression, she managed to attend two years of college at the Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy (now the University of Texas at El Paso), before leaving to work full-time. She was hired by the advertising department of the Popular Dry Goods Company in El Paso. It was there that she met her future husband, Harold Welch. Family lore has it that she looked down from a second floor office window just as he looked up from the street below. Harold and Jenna had their first date at Ciudad Juarez's Tivoli nightclub, a few steps from the Mexican-U.S. border. World War II was raging, and there was little time for long romances.
Harold and Jenna were married in the chapel on the grounds of the U.S. Army's Fort Bliss in January 1944, just before Master Gunner Harold Welch was shipped out to combat in Europe. He did not return for two years, during which time he was part of the assault on Germany and was among the U.S. forces to liberate the Nazi concentration camp at Nordhausen. In 1946, not long after Harold's return, the young couple moved from El Paso to Midland, Texas, where on November 4 of that year, their daughter, Laura Lane Welch, the future Mrs. Laura Bush, was born.
Like many women of that era, Jenna Welch stayed home to raise her daughter and make a home for her husband. She devoted considerable time to her main interests: reading and nature. Her daughter, Laura Bush, recalls coming home from school most afternoons to be "greeted by the soft rustle of book pages" and finding her mother immersed in a book. Jenna Welch read aloud to her daughter - Little Women was among their favorites - and the two routinely visited the Midland Public Library. Mrs. Welch was a knowledgeable, self-taught naturalist. She learned the name of every Midland wildflower and was an accomplished amateur birder. She took extension courses at Midland College and developed a passion for astronomy, which she shared with her daughter and granddaughters. Her daughter remembers how she and her mother would lie on a blanket on the grass and look up at the vast sky. More than two decades later, her twin granddaughters would skywatch with their Grammee.
Jenna Welch engaged in a variety of civic activities, including as a Girl Scout troop leader, a member of the Boone Bible Class and a Sunday school teacher at the First United Methodist Church of Midland, and a member of the Midland Naturalist Society, "the Mid-Nats." In her later years, she lovingly cared for her husband as he battled cancer and later dementia until his death in 1995.
Jenna Hawkins Welch is survived by her daughter, Laura; son-in-law, former President George W. Bush; two granddaughters, Barbara Bush and husband Craig Coyne, and her namesake, Jenna Hager and husband, Henry Hager; as well as two great-granddaughters.
The family would like to thank Elaine Magruder and Yolanda Guzman for their devotion to Mrs. Welch. A family funeral service was held at Resthaven Memorial Park in Midland, Texas, on Saturday, May 11. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to the Midland County Public Library Foundation, Post Office Box 1634, Midland, Texas, 79702; or to the Jenna Welch Nature Study Center, Post Office Box 2906, Midland, Texas, 79702.
Published in Midland Reporter-Telegram on May 12, 2019
Harold Bruce Welch
1912–1995 (m. 1944)