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New theatrical series honors drama professor John Welton

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During Carson-Newman’s Homecoming, the University announced the establishment of "The John Lee Welton Theatrical Series." The honor was given by alumni Dr. William and Linda Viel in honor of Professor Emeritus Dr. John Lee Welton. Pictured are Margaret and John Lee Welton, left, and Linda and William Viel.

(Nov. 14, 2017) – A gift from a grateful alumni couple will honor a beloved Carson-Newman legend, Dr. John Lee Welton. The honor was a Homecoming surprise to Welton and his wife, Margaret, from 1963 and ’64 graduates, respectively, Dr. William and Linda Viel.

"We are all so appreciative of the way the Viels have honored the Weltons and Carson-Newman," said Communication Department Chair Dr. Mark Borchert, during the Saturday, October 21, presentation.

The John Lee Welton Theatrical Series will enhance the program through engaging plays and a wide range of theatrical productions, along with fostering dreams previously out of range.

"This wonderful gift means the Phoenix Players can showcase new works, we can bring in noted directors, actors, and playwrights to work with students, and we can offer productions with special staging requirements, to name just a few possibilities," Borchert added.

In remarks to those gathered, Viel recalled the investment made in his life by "Papa Welton," as the professor emeritus is known to generations of alumni. As a sophomore in the early 1960s, Viel was looking for a major that could serve the call he felt to pastoral ministry. He said he was considering "a Bible major or another field of study."

The benefactor said Welton had suggested majoring in speech and drama to develop two specific areas that could very well be used in his pursuit of preaching ministry.

"For my life's vocational call and ministry, choosing speech and drama was God's best decision," said Viel. "I have used pulpit drama in preaching, directed major type dramas in the church and used creative worship to communicate the Gospel."

He concluded by saying that the establishment of the series was his and his wife's way of saying, "Thank you, John "Papa" Welton for your influence in my life."

Welton’s 37-year tenure, regarded as one of the high-water marks in the history of Carson-Newman's drama and theatre program, produced actors, directors and educators who have carried his influence across the globe. Welton recalls casting Viel as the father in "The Rainmaker," and says it may have been foreshadowing, given Viel's role as something of a father figure to several thousands of people through the ministry he and his wife have had around the world. Their service included ministerial work in the Mid-Atlantic region, a prison ministry Bill oversaw for several years, and support of missions both domestically and abroad.

"And, they have been constant supporters of C-N, emotionally and financially for many years," praised Welton, who called their recent donation "one of the highlights of my career."

He said the blessing of the Homecoming surprise is knowing that the gift "will influence the lives of hundreds of young people."

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