Meet Grand Marshal Mike Kelly!
We can’t be sure, but the blood coursing through Mike Kelly’s veins might possibly be green.
The mostly-Irish grand marshal for this year’s Hometown Irish Parade has roots that run deep in the British Isles. He’s about three-fourths Irish, he said, and the rest of his ancestry traces to England and Scotland.
It was Mike’s ties to his longtime hometown, however, that made him the perfect choice to lead off our 14th annual St. Patrick’s parade – as robust a celebration of community as you’ll find anywhere. He’s been part of the yearly festivities since their humble start in the village’s East Side Historic District in 2002.
“I’m either watching the parade, or working in it,” he said, not minding the shift this year to the honored front seat.
Mike, 65, has had a presence in the village since he and his wife, Nancy, moved to Crystal Lawns West Addition in 1977, drawn by Plainfield’s standout school system. Their daughters Rose, Michelle and Katie would eventually complete all of their schooling in District 202. Mike later put his heart and soul into the district through four terms on the Board of Education, serving a total of 16 years.
Recently retired after 43 years with Prudential Financial, he also has been active in the local Kiwanis Club chapter for 40 years, and served on the finance board at St. Mary Immaculate parish, where he and Nancy are parishioners.
In recent years, he has been active in supporting initiatives that include the successful increase in the size of the Park District board of trustees, when that public body developed turmoil in 2013, and the proposed Plainfield Public Library expansion – local causes he finds worthwhile.
The ties that bind Mike to Plainfield don’t keep him here all of the time, though. After a cancer scare several years ago, he and Nancy vowed to visit a “bucket list” of destinations worldwide before too much more time went by, and they have now been to Europe about 10 times since 2000. Their travels have thrice taken them to Ireland.
“They celebrate (St. Patrick’s Day) over there,” he said. “But nothing like we do it here.”
The Kellys also spend as much time as they can at their vacation home on Kentucky Lake, visiting the getaway year-round. Mike finds a special kind of beauty in the waterfront during the cold months.
“When the trees are bare, you can pretty much see the whole lake,” he said.
The water beckons him here, too. Mike shares ownership of a 26-foot sailboat with his son-in-law, Heath Wright. They dock the vessel at the Chicago Park District’s 31st Street Harbor marina. There are newer, more agile boats in the slips there, but Mike said he and Heath like their circa-1974 model just fine.
“It’s a good old boat which needed some TLC,” he said. “It’s just a joy to go out there.”
On most days, Mike also can be found on his ham radio. He’s been an operator since 1972, and has a friend in Minooka and another in Panama with whom he talks almost every morning.
Mike gets the draw of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, and the appeal of the Irish. They come from sturdy stock, accustomed to experiencing adversity and coming out of it stronger.
“I think that Irish people are fun,” he said. “They like to party, and we party well. We’re fun to be with.”
With more travel on the horizon, and two daughters and all six grandchildren living nearby, Mike has no plans to slow down any time soon – and he expects to remain active in his hometown.
“I wrote in my high school yearbook that I wanted to make a difference. I think I have,” he said. “I’m not done yet.”