This week during Black History Month we honor Dr. H. Edward Welton, the first Black optometrist to graduate from Ohio State University and the first to become a fellow of the Academy. Dr. Welton was born on February 11, 1911, in Nicodemus, Kansas. He graduated from Lash High School in Zanesville OH, received a BS and MS from Tennessee State University and graduated with his optometry degree from Ohio State University in 1938.
After graduation Dr. Welton left Ohio to start a private practice in Atlanta, then 8 years later returned to Ohio and established a practice in Cleveland. At some point, he married his wife Maxine.
According to the BuckEYE alumni newsletter from August 1994, “(Dr. Welton) made house calls and put back together eyeglass frames that had been long targeted for the trash. He made good use of everything. Nothing was to go to waste, not a frame, not even a greeting card.” In 1967, Dr. Welton became the supervisor of the Eye Clinic at the Hough-Norwood Family Health Care Center in Cleveland and served as supervisor there for 22 years.
Dr. Welton was an optometric and community leader, mentor to many who emphasized the importance of education as he inspired future generations of Black optometrists. He and his wife Maxine established scholarships at The Ohio State University College of Optometry and Tennessee State University to further minority pride and education.
“He was always concerned about less fortunate patients having access to quality eye care, and because I had the same concern, I went to work where he did at Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services,” explains LaVelle Jenkins, O.D., F.A.A.O., who first met Dr. Welton while a student at the Ohio State University College of Optometry (OSU), his Alma Mater. “When he retired, I took over his position as chief of optometry for optometric services, and he told me, ‘Remember to listen with your ears and your eyes because patients may tell you things through their expression that they may not say verbally.’ It was great advice!’”
“[Dr. Welton] told me he often had to use the back door to attend professional meetings because of segregation,” says Ernest J. Robinson, O.D., who worked with Dr. Welton at Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services. “But with all he endured, he was never bitter. He loved optometry.”
Dr. Welton died on July 20, 1994, at the age of 83, but his legacy lives on through his achievements and the scholarships he and his wife endowed.