Baldwin’s Kelley will be missed
Baldwin City icon Katharine Kelley didn't come to the library Tuesday for the first time in decades.
When the 96-year-old Kelley didn't call Sandra Johnson at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday, something was wrong. Johnson called Kelley's nephew, Edwin Smith, who lives next door. Smith found Kelley in her home at 909 Dearborn.
She had suffered a massive stroke.
Kelley was rushed to Lawrence Memorial Hospital. At around 3 p.m., word spread fast. Kelley had died as a result of the stroke.
She will be missed.
"Are we ever," said Johnson, a long-time friend and care taker for the last 12 years. "She was living life to its fullest up to the time she went to bed Monday night."
Johnson talked to Kelley that night. They were watching the Kansas City Chiefs playing the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football. Kelley didn't call Johnson in the morning.
"When she didn't call me at 7:15, I figured she'd fallen and broken a hip," she said. "When she hadn't called by 7:30, I called Edwin."
He found her. She was barely breathing. He called 911. Then he called Johnson.
"The doctor said she probably had it (the stroke) in her sleep," said Johnson. "She was in bed when Edwin found her."
Kelley lived for another seven hours or so. It was mid afternoon when she died at LMH. While the news spread fast, the magnitude of it took time to soak in. For Johnson, that was Wednesday morning.
"Then this morning, the phone didn't ring," said Johnson, choking back tears.
The two had a call schedule. It always worked. Johnson works at the library, where Kelley has faithfully shown up everyday for decades to painstakenly preserve Baldwin's history, as well as one of her passions -- the Santa Fe Trail, which she has been honored for her life-time efforts.
Kelley and Johnson had developed the schedule over the last dozen years. It started with the 7:15 a.m. call and concluded at 8:15 p.m.
"We probably talked back and forth 10 times a day," said Johnson. "We never got tired of each other. She is the only person on the face of this earth that knew where I was every minute of the day. She had to know where someone was."
They developed quite a bond over the years.
"She told me once, 'I see more of me in you than anyone else," said Johnson, again choking back the tears.
Kelley touched countless lives during her 96 years. The Vinland High School graduate went on to graduate from Baker University with a teaching degree. She taught for around four decades in various Baldwin School District elementary schools.
Baker honored her at its most recent graduation ceremony. Baker President Daniel Lambert is so glad they did. He knows what she meant to the community.
"How many people in Baldwin City can remember a time without Katharine?" Lambert said. "She is a community treasure. There will be no one to take her place. Look at what all she was involved with and how long she was involved with it."
He'll also miss her dearly.
"Who won't?" Lambert said. "My guess is that most people around town feel the same about her. She was a fixture in the community that had taken on perputity. She would always be here."
And, like everyone, Lambert had his own special memory of Kelley.
"There was this bird in the backyard that I'd never seen before," he said. "I called Katharine. She told me to tell her what it looked liked and I did. She nailed it right away."
For Johnson, that special memory involves a muskrat family that lived on the Kelley farm when the four daughters were young. They caused all sorts of problems and finally they were trapped and put in a pen. The muskrat father was fed some bread by Mrs. Kelley. He died.
"It was so funny. They buried him and put up a tombstone," Johnson said. "It read 'Here lies Jerry Muskrat dead from eating Mrs. Kelley's bread.'"
Kelley remained active throughout her life, going to the library every day to work on preserving Baldwin's history and another of her loves, the Santa Fe Trail. She was well known as a bird watcher and many other involvements.
"She was excited about everything," said Johnson. "She was just interested in everything."
Everyone will miss her, most notably her sister, Martha Smith, and nephew, Edwin.
"We'll miss her," said Edwin. "She was a nice, wonderful person. That's all I can say."
Funeral services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday at the First United Methodist Church.
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