Hon. George Kelly.In reviewing the administration of those who have served as chief executives of Kansas municipalities few instances can be found wherein have been displayed greater executive, financial and constructive talent, unselfish devotion to the duties of office and permanence of achievement than in the service of Mr. Kelly, mayor of Goodland. To his initiative, progressiveness and untiring energy is due in great measure its present satisfactory public service utilities. Its Carnegie Library, completed in 1912, was made possible through his personal efforts and concluded a campaign covering a period of ten years.
George Kelly is a native of Michigan and was born on his father's farm near Irving, Barry county, on July 17, 1859. His father, James Kelly, was born in Tipperary, Ireland, in 1819, and married Mary Shea, born in Cork, in 1824. He came to America in 1847, and for a time was employed in construction work on the Erie canal, then building, and on that portion near Rochester. In 1852 he went to Michigan and bought a farm near Irving. Here he engaged in farming, which continued to be his occupation until his death in 1909. He was a Democrat in politics, took an active interest in the questions of the times, but was not an office holder. He was esteemed in the section in which he lived and was influential. His wife passed away in 1898. Both were members of the Catholic church. They reared a family of seven children, all of whom, with the exception of Jennie, who married H. J. De Golia, formerly a banker, of Grand Rapids, Mich., survive. They are William M. Kelly, a prominent and influential citizen of Irving, Mich., and present owner of the old Kelly farm; James and Judson Kelly, both farmers of Barry county, Michigan; Margaret, the wife of William Quigley, of Hastings, Mich., a retired farmer; Frank Kelly, a member of the Chicago, Ill., police force and the subject of this article.
George Kelly was reared on the home farm in Barry county, and received his education in its public schools. When a lad of sixteen he struck out for himself and secured employment in one of the lumber camps, at that time Michigan's great industry. He continued in this line of endeavor, in various capacities, until 1881, when he came to Kansas and at Atchison entered the employ of the Atchison & Nebraska railroad, now a part of the Burlington system. He remained with this company until 1888, during which time he was given an engine and a regular run. In the latter year he entered the service of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific railroad, as engineer, a position he has since held, a service which has been continuous, with the exception of about eighteen months, due to severe illness, and is at this writing, 1912, one of the oldest men in point of service west of Omaha. He is one of the most popular men in the employ of the Rock Island lines and enjoys to the full the confidence and esteem of its officials. Mr. Kelly is a charter member of Sparks Lodge, No. 71, Knights of Pythias, of Goodland, and has occupied its various chairs. He is also a member of Goodland Lodge, No. 422, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, prominent in the order, and served as a delegate from his lodge to the National Convention at Milwaukee, Wis., in 1901. On reaching his majority, in 1880, he joined the Odd Fellows at Bound Centre, Mich., now the Freeport Lodge, and took all degrees. Since his first vote he has been a consistent advocate of principles of Democracy and it is in connection with his service as mayor of Goodland that he has become well and favorably known over a large section of the State. He became the nominee of his party for this office in 1905 and was elected by the better element of both parties by a complimentary majority. Municipal affairs were in badly disorganized condition when he took office in April, 1905, due to the inefficiency of the various officials of previous administrations. Selfishness, greed and incompetence had characterized their service. The first reform to be effected by Mr. Kelly was the building of the city's water plant, at that time inadequate in every particular. His twenty-five years' experience as a locomotive engineer admirably fitted him to undertake its reconstruction. Few cities of the population of Goodland have the equal of its present water plant. In its renovation and extension $30,000 were expended. A steel standpipe ninety feet high and twenty feet in diameter was built at a cost of $12,000, replacing an old wooden one, having a capacity of 235,000 gallons. Two wells were added, engines overhauled and a large amount of concrete work done. It is conceded by those who know that through Mr. Kelley's knowledge of metals and their values at least $3,000 were saved in the purchase of the steel for the standpipe. In this water plant alone Mr. Kelly has a lasting monument to his ability as a constructor. It represents a maximum accomplishment with a minimum expenditure. Second in importance to the water plant was the enlisting of capital to erect a modern electric lighting plant. He made numerous trips to Denver, Kansas City and Topeka in order that a legitimate concern, and not a franchise grabbing coterie, might be induced to take advantage of the opportunity offered. The result of his efforts in this direction is the highly satisfactory service now in operation. It is well to note that not one cent of expense entailed by these trips was paid by the city, the full expense being borne by Mr. Kelly. During this administration a notable increase in the efficiency of all departments of city work was effected, while a city council composed of the city's most progressive business men acted in full accord with the mayor. He retired in April, 1907, at the conclusion of his term, leaving a record for devotion to duty, efficiency and honesty in public office which should be sufficient to fill to the full his ambitions. During the years 1907 to 1911 the administration of city affairs again reached a most unsatisfactory condition. Frugality in expenditures was seemingly of little consequence and efficiency in office of secondary importance. In 1911 a group of the best element in Goodland, non-partisan in make-up, desiring to nominate a ticket which would be sure to remedy the existing evils, if elected, persuaded Mr. Kelly to again make the race. He received the nomination, but was taken seriously ill some two weeks before election and taken to a Denver hospital. His steadfast friends conducted his campaign, however, and he was elected by a handsome majority. The oath of office was administered to him on his sick bed at home, and some three months elapsed before he was permitted to attend a meeting of the council. The same high order of efficiency has characterized his second administration as did his first. Conditions have obtained highly satisfactory to the citizens of the city and a marked reduction in expenditure effected. As mayor he has given the city of Goodland an exceedingly able and frugal administration and by methods clean, capable and honest. The last monument to his ability in getting what he goes after is the new Carnegie Library, erected in 1912. Securing the building fund for this public utility required hard work, stick-at-iveness and diplomacy, and he should be, as the citizens are, highly pleased at the termination of a campaign lasting ten years. The building is of steel, concrete and brick, and is fireproof. It was erected at a cost of $10,000, and occupies grounds 75 by 140 feet.
On July 2, 1884, at Atchison, Kan., Mr. Kelly married Miss Kate Shea, daughter of John Shea, of that city. Her father was a native of Lexington, Ky., where his ancestors were early settlers and prominent in the early life of that State. His sister, Catherine Shea, married Martin Baker, the first settler of Atchison, Kan., whose homestead is now occupied by the business section of that city. He became one of the most prominent and wealthy men of that section of the state.
Mr. and Mrs. Kelly are the parents of five children: Vinta A., born April 1, 1887, a graduate of Lovetta Heights Academy, Denver; George L., born May 13, 1890, an employe of the Rock Island lines, train service; Walter, born March 6, 1892, in the bridge department of the same lines; Harry, born May 12, 1896, call boy, Rock Island, at Goodland, and Fritz, born March 14, 1903.
Mrs. Kelly is one of the popular matrons of Goodland, a woman of culture, and their home is one of the social centers of the city.
Mr. Kelly is a fine type of the progressive, enterprising American. He is a self-made man and is justly entitled to the respect and admiration of his many friends. He believes in the home and fireside. He has always insisted that the best citizen is the home builder and that such are to be depended upon to devote a portion of their time, intelligence and personal funds to secure that which is most desirable to the general welfare in their home towns and cities. That he is consistent is exemplified by his record as mayor of Goodland, his home for twenty-five years. He is one of the large property owners of his home city and in 1908 purchased the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific railway's town lot holding, known as the C. K. & U. property, which consisted of about 1,200 lots.Pages 609-612 from a supplemental volume of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed October 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM196. It is a single volume 3.
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