DANSVILLE — As a way to honor 70 years of membership to the Dansville Rotary Club, WWII US Army Veteran William Kelly, was given the key to the village.
The Dansville Rotary Club, Mayor Peter Vogt, Rotary District Governor Thomas Rogers, friends and family, and community members came to honor Kelly for his dedication to the place he has called home for 95 years.
Jack’s Gaslight and Grill hosted the event on Tuesday. Kelly not only received the key to the village, but he also was given a proclamation marking March 7 as William Kelly Day, a certificate of appreciation from Rogers, and a fancy clock engraved with his dedication from the rotary.
Kelly became a member on March 4, 1947 and met his wife, Dolly, in 1954 when she gave a Dansville Rotary Club presentation on her trip to Germany as a foreign exchange student after the war. Kelly went on to become the president of the club in 1958.
Vogt highlighted the year that Kelly was president of the club. During his time as president a sports annual dinner was formed, electric razors were donated to the Dansville Hospital (before it was Noyes), a speech was given on the importance of leadership, industry to the community was discussed, and there was an important speech on the American Red Cross and Disaster Relief.
“There was quite a schedule of presentations and programs that year,” Vogt said. “This is a little bit about Bill’s year as president.”
Vogt read a proclamation from the village board honoring Kelly.
“William Kelly is being honored by the Dansville Rotary Club and members of Dansville community. William Kelly joined the rotary club on March 4, 1947 at the age of 25. He served as club president for rotary year 1958 to 1959 and continues to be a member, “ he said. “March 4, 2017 marks 70 years of service to the Dansville Rotary Club and surrounding community. Mr. Kelly has earned the respect, love, and affection of his fellow citizens and members of the Dansville business community. The citizens of Dansville honor Mr. Kelly for his passion and commitment to the Dansville Rotary Club, and his example as a role model others of the National Rotary Club, and his service and dedication to the community. I do hereby proclaim this day, March 7, as William “Bill” Kelly Day. I want us all to honor William Kelly for his 70 year membership as a rotarian, and for his continued success in his future endeavors.”
“I hereby present Bill Kelly with this key to the village,” Vogt continued. “It is not a key to any lock. It is the true key to the hearts of the citizens of Dansville. To the best of my knowledge this is only the second time one of these have been given out.”
Kelly spoke about what it has meant for him to be a rotarian.
“My wife was a foreign exchange student from Wellsville that went to Germany right after WWII. The thinking at the time was if we had exchange students going back and forth between our countries that we could avert another WWII,” he said. “She was over there visiting a German girl one summer in 1952. She went on the program (Dansville Rotary Club) and the deal was that as part of her sponsorship was to come back and talk about her trip to Europe with the service member clubs. She had to talk about her experience in a different land. She was on the program at the hotel in Dansville that is now Community Bank. As she spoke to the rotary club I spotted her. In 1954 she spoke at the rotary club. Not long after that I found out where she stayed. I dated her and she became my wife.”
“There were three service clubs in Dansville in the 1950s. A man came to our house on Clay Street, and I was a single guy,” Kelly continued. “He talked to my dad and my brother about joining the rotary club. He asked if I wanted to join the rotary club, and I said I had to think about it. I was pretty young when I joined the rotary club. They allowed a youngster to join. It has been quite a run for the 70 years. I haven’t regretted one minute of it. Thank you for the recognition. Best of luck to you.”
Rogers honored Kelly with a certificate of appreciation for his membership.
“Bill as district governor I am proud to be here today, and I liked your story about your wife being part of the rotary scholarship exchange,” he said. “Before I was married I was on a group study exchange, and while I was there I realized I was inlove with her, and I came home and proposed to her. We have been married for 36 years now, so the rotary can work many different ways. I had to look up some things that happened in 1947. The US Air Force was first made a branch of the military. The World Series was televised for the first time. I looked up the rotary history. In 1947 was the death of our founder Paul Harris. Rotarians had given him 1.3 million dollars that year in honor of Paul Harris. There were 200,000 members of rotary worldwide at that time. The first international scholarships were given. Much has happened in the time you have been a rotarian.”
“William Kelly it is an honor to congratulate you on 70 years of service to the rotary. Since you were inducted into the rotary you made a commitment not only to the rotary and community, but also to do good work and embody service above self,” Rogers continued. “You and I both know that special feeling you get at rotary. When you know someone is going to be living a better life because of you. You have provided extraordinary service to the world. Today the world is depending on us to do even more.”
Dansville Rotary Club President Jim Vogler said he did some research on the membership and discovered there is only about three people in the country that have the honor of being 70 year members.
“Not many people have 70 years in the rotary club,” he said. “In the U.S. I found there are three people who have 70 years or more, and in the rest of the world there is one person I found with 70 years or more. They stopped making pens after 60 years membership.”
Vogler said it has been an inspiration to know Kelly and he enjoys his stories.
“Bill your stories are great. If you have anymore I am sure people love to hear them,” he said. “It has been an inspiration to know you.”
Norm Wetterau has been a long-time neighbor and friend of Kelly. He said Kelly reached out to welcome him when he moved here in 1973.
Patrick Kelly, William’s son, is very excited to have his father honored.
“It is very exciting for us to see as an example of commitment to this community for 70 years. It is hard to relate to that kind of commitment,” he said. “I am excited to see him get awarded. He is a quiet man who doesn’t like to be recognized much.”
Marie Sullivan, William’s daughter, said it is great way to honor her father.
“It is a great honor to celebrate my father’s dedication,” she said. “It is great to recognize him for his many years of service to the rotary. Dad always tells stories and loves history. He always has something interesting to say.”
One of Kelly’s claims to fame is that he was a part of the group that guarded the salt mine holding the priceless artwork in “Monuments Men.” The 2014 film “Monuments Men” starring George Clooney and Matt Damon depicts the effort in rescuing this artwork. Clooney knows Robert Kelly, William’s son, and asked to have his father come down for an interview to be part of the Blu Ray edition of “Monuments Men.” The hour-long interview that the studio did was given to his family to enjoy, even though only a couple of minutes were used for the movie. Clooney and the rest of the cast signed a poster for Kelly. There is an image of Kelly getting his photo taken with the art in the salt mine next to the real-life man that Clooney portrays.