Remembering former Superior Court Judge Dudley Welker

Contributed Photo: Former Graham County Superior Court Judge Dudley Welker passed May 22.

Former Graham County Superior Court Judge Dudley Struan Welker died May 22, 2023, at his home in Mesa at age 90. Welker served on the bench from 1988 to 1998 and practiced law in the Gila Valley for almost 50 years. 

Welker, whose family helped settle Thatcher in the 1880s, was born in Safford in 1932.  He graduated from Thatcher High School in 1950, Eastern Arizona College in 1952, Brigham Young University in 1954 with an accounting degree, and the University of Arizona College of Law in 1959. He passed the Arizona bar exam in 1959 and joined prominent Graham County attorney Guy Anderson in practicing law in Safford. He eventually became a partner in the firm and maintained the law firm of Anderson & Welker until he required from legal practice in 2006.

As an attorney, Welker represented many prominent Gila Valley business and enterprises, including the Graham County Electric Co-op, Valley Telephone, Southeastern Bottling Company, andthe Gila Valley Irrigation District. From 1959 to 2012, except for his time on the bench, Welker also was the town attorney for Thatcher.

In that position, Welker helped Thatcher take action that led to a seminal legal ruling in Arizona.  In the spring of 1972, the Arizona Court of Appeals decided a case known as City of Safford v. Town of Thatcher.   The case takes up just about four pages in law books, but after five decades, it’s become one of the most cited cases on annexation law in Arizona.

In 1971, prompted by the likelihood of that future growth, Thatcher annexed a long, narrow strip of land to the south and east of the town (running along Reay Lane to Daley Estates and then back to Highway 70).  The strip, which was about five miles long and fifty feet wide in most places, essentially drew a big loop around 2,180 acres of farmland that weren’t being annexed.

The city of Safford then sued the town of Thatcher, arguing that the annexation was invalid.  Safford claimed that the annexation didn’t meet state law requirements that the land being annexed was “contiguous” to the town.  Relying on a 1952 case involving a similar action by the city of Phoenix, the Arizona appellate court quickly rejected Safford’s argument and upheld the annexation.  

“We didn’t do that blindly,” Welker said during an interview in 2012.  He knew the town was on solid ground with the annexation because he had researched the case law and found the little-known, almost-forgotten Phoenix case.  Thatcher’s success spawned a string of similar annexations until the state legislature passed a law clarifying annexation requirements, he said.  

Welker and his wife, Marilyn, who died in 2010, also owned and operated Consolidated Title Agency (now Pioneer Title) from 1972 to 2003.  He was president of both the EAC Alumni Association and the EAC Foundation, with more than 40 years of service to the two organizations and was active in the Mt. Graham Cabin Owners’ Association and the Rotary Club.  The Welkers moved to Tucson in 2006, and Dudley Welker moved toMesa in 2011.

A life-long member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Welker served a church mission in the Northwest States from 1954 to 1956 and taught the adult Sunday School class for years.  He is survived by his children, Susan (Carl) Turley of Huachuca City; Holly Welker of Mesa; Kathryn (Matthew) Hess of Bountiful, Utah; LoraLee (Spencer) Jesperson of Mesa; and John Welker of Tucson; 15 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

The funeral will be Friday, June 2, at 10 a.m. in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meetinghouse at 2220 N. Harris Drive, Mesa, with burial at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 3, in the Tucson Binghampton Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to a scholarship established last year at EAC in Welker’s honor. Donations can be made by sending a check to the EAC Foundation, 615 N. Stadium Ave., Thatcher, AZ 85552, or online at, with a designation for the Dudley S. Welker Memorial Scholarship.