by Linda Sickler
THIS IS A STORY of courage, loyalty and love in the face of adversity. It’s the story of Waddie Welcome and his friend, Addie Reeves. They were two unlikely heroes, but their story continues to touch many lives years after their deaths. At one time, Welcome’s future must have seemed bleak. He was born on the Fourth of July, 1914, in Sylvania, Ga., with severe cerebral palsy. Welcome never learned to stand or walk and spent much of his life lying flat on his back. He was not able to speak clearly and could barely communicate. Because of his disabilities, he was never allowed to attend school. Yet Welcome had a quick mind, and he Left, Waddie Welcome with Debra Selman, who facilitated his ‘Circle of Friends.’ At right, a close-up of Addie Reeves hand-made loved people -- especially women. He found phone and address book, willing it to Tom Kohler ‘after death’; her book is now on display at the Telfair Museum of Art ways to make others understand him. Once people met Welcome, they never across the room she didn’t know and throw them a forgot him. “He was a very magnetic person,” says Kohler called Reeves and went to her home in peppermint.” Susan Earl. “He was very energetic, very beautiful to Yamacraw Village. She told him that when Connect Savannah columnist Jane Fishman was look at.” Welcome’s mother died in 1974, she’d asked Reeves a friend of Addie Reeves. With Tom Kohler, Earl is the author of a book, to watch over her son. Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community. “He “When you know someone like that, you don’t Reeves, who was 100 when she died in October had the most lively expressions,” she says. “He comrealize how special they are until they aren’t here any municated so well with his face. He was so more,” Fishman says. “I can’t really say I’ve met 2001, had grown up on a farm as one of ten children. responsive and so clear in what he wanted.” anybody like Mrs. Reeves. She was a quick read.” On the farm she learned the particular value of two Welcome’s family moved from Sylvania to Although loving, Reeves could be sharp with her things -- work and cooking. Savannah in a mule-drawn wagon. They settled on tongue. “When I didn’t call her back immediately, she Her pastor, the Rev. Bennie Mitchell of Connors Battery Street in the Cuyler-Brownsville community called me and said, ‘This is old lady Addie Reeves. I Temple Baptist Church, says she was unforgettable. in the mid-1920s. For a time, Welcome’s mother ain’t dead yet,’” Fishman says. “Most of the members of our church can remember operated a small treats store with cookies, candy “She was kind and good, but she could also Mrs. Reeves,” Mitchell says. and pickles on their front porch. He helped out by throw a zinger at you. She could speak from the “She embodied the scripture, John 3:16 -- ‘For keeping an eye on the money jar. heart, but also very honestly.” God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Welcome’s parents, Henry and Carrie, cared for Everyone who met Mrs. Reeves remembers her son.’ Mrs. Reeves demonstrated what God did for him until their deaths. Then his brother, Willie, the cooking. Fishman once took her mother to Reeves’ the world. She loved the unloved, the crippled and only sibling left in Savannah, cared for him. house for dinner. the ugly.” After a time, neighbors who were concerned “She made smothered chicken and greens and Reeves had an unusual hobby. Over a long about Welcome’s quality of care notified Adult biscuits,” Fishman says. “She had to send us home period of time, perhaps longer than 25 years, she Protective Services. He was taken from his brother’s with something. It wasn’t about food, it was really lovingly crafted a handmade telephone and address home into a nursing home. about sharing.” book by cutting thousands of letters and numbers Over the next several years, Welcome was transWhen Welcome was transferred to Abbeyville, out of magazines. ferred to other nursing homes, including one in Reeves wanted to go visit him. By that time, Kohler These letters were carefully stored in a cardAbbeyville, three hours away from his beloved had asked attorney Lester Johnson if he would board box she had sectioned into compartments. Savannah. He hated being in a nursing home, and, become Welcome’s citizen advocate, so the three Each letter was taped or glued into her phone book even more, hated being away from his old neighwent to Abbeyville. to spell out the names, addresses and numbers of borhood. Johnson quickly agreed to become Welcome’s the people who were important to her. Tom Kohler met Welcome in 1986 at Savannah advocate, and Reeves added Johnson to her phone “As she was sitting there, she was probably Health Care Nursing Home through his work as book. cutting some letters out. She made sure she had coordinator of Chatham-Savannah Citizens “She would always say, ‘Come by and pick up numbers and names of people she could call,” Advocacy. He remembers at their first meeting that some biscuits or sweet rolls.’” Johnson remembers. Mitchell says. Welcome was “a man with piercing eyes.” “I got so busy at times, I’d forget to stop. The next “She always had something to share. She baked It soon became clear that Welcome desperately day, I’d get a call and she would bless me out. cookies. Every Sunday morning, she made sure she “One day she called and said she had some needed a citizen advocate to get him out of the had peppermints, which she would give to the kids.” nursing home. Kohler asked 39 people, but not one Not only did Reeves keep a stash of peppermints money in the bank,” he says. “She wanted me to get it. I said, ‘How much?’ She had $100. It had been said yes. to give out, she literally threw them at people. “She would throw those peppermints overhand,” there forever.” Then Kohler found a letter in Welcome’s nightEarl says. “She would hit people! She’d see someone Johnson had trouble finding the time to go to the stand. It was from someone named Addie Reeves, a family friend of the Welcomes.