PATCH WORK POWER
When the Welch, Oklahoma, Lions Club decided to build a new civic auditorium they weren’t quite sure just where they’d get the money to see the project through. But with a Lion’s determination, a car built one piece at a time and the help of country music star Johnny Cash, they build the auditorium and more.
Because Welch is a considerable distance from a town of any great size the Lions felt it important to provide a meeting place for the youth of the area. They decided to go one step further and concentrate their efforts on maintaining the unity of family and community. They would build a civic auditorium: a gathering place which would provide entertainment for all ages and help bond the fellowship of family, friends and neighbors.
With this in their minds and faith in their hearts the Lions arranged for a contractor to begin work on the building and took on the financial debt. Undaunted by economic barriers, they put their shoulder to the wheel and began their fund-raising campaign. They staged musical comedy and variety acts, held garage sales, raffles and bake sales. They collected favorite recipes and published “What’s Cooking in Welch” and offered the book for sale. Financial donations rolled in, including a healthy one from long-time Lion Bill Patch. Yet the size of the debt dwindled slowly.
One day, Bill Patch sat in his office listening to Johnny Cash’s recording of “One Piece At A Time.” The song tells the story of a poor auto worker who over the years pilfered Cadillac parts and built a hodge-podge auto of his own. The result was a composite of many models.
Patch, who liked to tinker mechanically with his collection of antique autos, decided it would be fun to build a car of the song’s description. He and his mechanics scavenged the salvage yards inquiring for “..a Cadillac fender or door.” “What model?” was the inevitable
question..” It doesn’t matter.” Was the answer that was sure to bring a strange look and shake of the head.
The end result of Patch’s efforts was a magnificent, 1949-73 Cadillac Coupe Sedan Deville, three-door automobile. Friends persuaded him to give his Cadillac creation to Johnny Cash. This, however , proved difficult as Cash was dubious of Patch’s “no strings attached” offer. But Patch wouldn’t give up. He took the car to the House of Cash Museum in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and waited for the star performer.
Cash quickly fell in love with the car, and after much conversation with Patch, decided to accept the gift. When he heard of the Welch Lions efforts to raise funds for civic auditorium, he obligingly planned a way to reciprocate Patch’s kindness. Cash brought his lovely and talented wife, June Carter Cash, to Welch for a benefit performance.
The benefit was advertised sparingly to enable townspeople and nearby residents first chance at the two shows of 1,000 seats each. Warm-up music was provided by Rodney Lay and The Wild West. Though security was heavy, Cash and his wife were a bit apprehensive as they were used to larger, big-city crowds. By the end of the first show, however , they felt right at home thanks to the genuine warmth and courtesy extended to them by a most gracious country audience. And, the benefit show enough money to send the building fund right past its goal. The Welch Civic Auditorium was in the clear.
A lasting friendship grew between Bill Patch and Johnny Cash, and they frequently visited with one another. One such reunion prompted Cash to inquire about the functions and goals of the Lions. Patch proudly explained, “We Lions help the needy, build ball parks and light them, build community buildings and Boy Scout shelters. We also support the Oklahoma Eye Bank which offers the blind a chance to see again through eye transplants.” Cash replied: “I’d like to help your Lions Club. May we perform again?”
The second show was like old home week for Cash and his wife, June. They opened the show by driving the Patch-work Cadillac right through the wide, overhead doors and into the auditorium. Making their way to the stage, they stopped to greet members of the audience, and , at one point during the show Cash observed a mother trying to snap a picture of her “special” son with Cash on stage. Without missing a note, Cash
leaned forward and took the boy’s hand for the picture.
During an especially warm moment of welcome on stage June Carter Cash said, “We feel like we had a little something to do with this building and it is nice to be back. If you will allow us, we’ll drag back in here every year or so.”
The Welch Lions presented fellow member Patch with a plaque of appreciation, and , for Cash they purchased an antique popcorn-peanut vending machine.
Cash’s “One Piece At A Time” Cadillac, which he drove in parades and for personal business, is frequently on display at his museum in Tennessee and a film of the car is shown at every tour performance.
The folks in this tiny farming and coal mining town in northeastern Oklahoma feel the genuine bond of friendship that has formed between themselves and Johnny and June in having reached a common goal. And they learned that from small beginnings come great results and that the good things in life come through common effort. But, more importantly, they have learned that when Lions work together and have faith in a project, goals are reached little by little, bit by bit…ONE PIECE AT A TIME.