Welford Sanders grew up in Chicago during the 1950s and 60s. As a young person in a racially polarized city where housing problems led to social problems, he embraced the concept of hope through meaningful change. He spent his life making the betterment of urban environments a reality.
In 1971, Welford earned his bachelor’s degree in history and economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, followed by his master’s in Urban and Regional Planning two years later. He made history by being the first African-American fencer at UW, going on to win three varsity letters in the 1960s, and he devoted much of his time on campus to teaching and mentoring other students.
After graduation, Welford went onto work for the Chicago-based American Planning Association (APA) as associate director for research and a principal investigator for APA’s nationwide studies. He authored a series on zoning innovations for residential developments, and he was a nationally recognized authority on factory-built housing, having researched and written extensively on the subject.
In 1993, Welford was hired as an assistant adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning, specializing in urban development, neighborhood planning and housing. In 2001, he became a part-time adjunct professor.
Also in the 1990s, Welford became executive director of the nonprofit Martin Luther King Economic Development Corporation (MLKEDC). Under his leadership, MLKEDC created King Drive Commons, a series of four mixed-use developments. King Drive Commons was developed in phases from 2004 through 2013 in an area bordered by North 2nd, North 6th, West Center and West Hadley streets. These developments created 108 housing units and commercial spaces, including a restaurant, art gallery and business spaces.
Welford Sanders Historic Lofts was originally to be named King Drive Commons V, by renaming the facility, the Welford Sanders Lofts would be a lasting testament to his devotion to Milwaukee and its neighborhoods. Sanders’ legacy also includes the extraordinary progress he brought to the entire MLK Drive corridor and adjacent Milwaukee neighborhoods.
Welford was a champion for small businesses and local start-ups. He nurtured many entrepreneurs and served as Growing Power’s board chairman. His legacy is enriched by countless students, community members, partners and colleagues who have benefitted from his vision and counsel.
Welford Sanders departed this life on May 23, 2015.