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Benefit to raise money for island man, local music legend

By Staff | Aug 28, 2013

The American Legion is hosting a benefit for Jim Welker, a honkty-tonk player and 42 year resident of Sanibel Island, who has been in intensive care for nearly a month.

Jody Jones, his daughter, said 76-year-old Welker went in for an outpatient procedure earlier this month and something went terribly wrong. His wife Judy, daughters Jeanine and Jill, and sons Jerry and Jeff, have been dealing with the financial burden of hospital bills and traveling back and forth to visit their father everyday.

Jones, who is general manager of the The Cracker Box Restaurant near Fort Myers Beach, has closed the business for long stretches of time as she visits her father, and her sister Jeanine hasn’t left his side.

Recently, doctors said there was a chance Welker would be moved to a rehabilitation center in another county.

“He has more bad days than good. Right now we’re asking everyone to continue to pray for him,” said Jody Jones. “We know he will come out of ICU, but we aren’t sure when that is going to happen.”

American Legion Post 123 has organized a benefit for Welker on Sunday, Sept. 1 starting at noon. It will feature an all-you-can-eat buffet of food donated by island restaurants, a silent auction, yard games, and live music from the Cracker Box Band, Jesse Allen Band, The Troublestarters, and Robbie Hutto.

Jones said organizers are looking to add more bands before the benefit. They are also seeking out restaurants who want to hang flyers or donate food for the buffet.

Welker moved to Sanibel in 1972 and owned the Golden Sands Restaurant, which used to be the only restaurant on the island with live music. He later bought the Cracker Box Restaurant in 1975. Welker began performing at his own restaurants and today can still be seen across the island and on Fort Myers Beach. Most people compare his voice to Willie Nelson, said Jones, and he is known for wearing an old cowboy hat with pins from all over the world.

For three decades Welker owned and operated a grading company on Sanibel before retiring, and for the last four years he served as commander of Post 123.

Everyday, 300-500 people are checking the Cracker Box’s Facebook page to read updates on Welker, said Jones, because the family has been a permanent fixture on the island and people want to know what is happening.

For more information about the benefit or how to donate, call Post 123 at 472-9979 or the Cracker Box 466-4344.