William (Bill) F. Kelly Jr. of Dansville, NY, died peacefully at home on November 6, 2018, at the age of 97. He was born on August 25, 1921, in Dansville, NY, to William F. Kelly, Sr. and Agnes B. Murphy (Coultry) Kelly. Bill graduated from Dansville High School in 1939 and received a BS from Cornell University in 1943. Bill joined ROTC during college and after Cornell joined the armed forces and attended Field Artillery School in Ft. Sill, OK. His unit left NYC harbor on December 25, 1944 and deployed to Bastogne, Belgium as a replacement 2nd Lieutenant in Battery B 490th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 11th Armored Division of the Third Army under General Patton. His unit saw action in Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria. He was promoted to 1stLieutenant.
Bill Kelly's military service in defense of his country was significant. He served as a forward artillery observer during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. His assignment was to travel four to six miles ahead of the front lines and, using binoculars, identify enemy sites and radio their positions back to the Allied artillery. His job, therefore, was to provide frontline intelligence; his ten predecessors were killed in the line of duty.
At the end of the war, Bill was assigned to lead 40 men who were guarding an ancient salt mine in Altaussee, Austria. When he and a prominent art conservator entered the mine to see what the Nazis were hiding, they discovered large underground chambers that held thousands of priceless paintings, sculptures and other artifacts that had been looted by the German army from museums, churches and private homes.
The story of Bill's real-world efforts to protect world-famous art was captured in the 2014 feature film "Monuments Men," directed by George Clooney. When the filmmakers realized—thanks to a note from Bill's children—that Bill was a real Monuments Man, the producers flew Bill to Los Angeles and interviewed him on camera. That interview is part of the Special Features section on the DVD, released in 2015.
After the war, Bill was a Military Government Officer in the agricultural section in Germany. Following that, he returned to his native Dansville to play an active role in the community. He was a longstanding member of the Union Hose Company and the Dansville Rotary Club since 1947(past president '58-'59). He was also a leading member of St. Mary's Church, a 73 year member of the Daniel Goho Post of the American Legion and a member of the Knights of Columbus. Bill served as President of the Western New York State Nurseryman's Association and was a Board Member of the Groveland State Bank and the Livingston County Soil & Water Conservation District.
Bill's most prominent local contribution was his service as President of Kelly Brothers Nurseries, one of Dansville's largest employers from 1949-1985. Kelly Brothers was founded in 1880 and was a staple of Dansville's business community until the company's sale in 1985. Hundreds of local teenagers were employed by the nursery over the years, working summers grafting fruits trees, for which the nursery was well-known.
Bill was many things to those who knew him. He was kind, patient, quick to tell a joke and always willing to help those in need. He made his way into the hearts of many neighbors and children for installing an ice rink in his side yard each winter and sharing his pool each summer. He was a dedicated husband, father and grandfather and, together with his wife, Dolly, hosted countless pool parties and barbecues for friends and neighbors in their backyard. He and Dolly loved to travel and visited 45 countries together. He took pride in visiting all 50 states during his lifetime.
Bill enjoyed participating in and watching sports. In high school he was the quarterback on the Dansville varsity football team. At Cornell he played lacrosse and polo. He won the inter-fraternity boxing championship at Cornell in 1941 and 1942. He was the assistant hockey coach for the Dansville youth hockey team in the late 1970's. He was an avid supporter of the sports activities of his kids and grandkids.He was inducted on the Dansville Wall of Pride in 2016.
Bill was truly an active member of America's Greatest Generation.
Bill was married for 60 years to the now deceased Dolly McFadden Kelly, the love of his life. He met her at a Rotary Club meeting when she gave a presentation on her experience as a foreign exchange student in Germany after the war. They married on August 18, 1956. Bill is survived by his three children: Marie Sullivan of Dansville, NY; Bob Kelly (married to Sue Kelly) of Pacific Palisades, CA; and Patrick Kelly (married to Kathleen Kelly) of Rochester, NY. He has eight grandchildren: Trevor Sullivan, Devon Sullivan, Rhett Sullivan, Erin Kelly, Courtney Kelly, Gavin Kelly, Eileen Kelly and Will Kelly. He is predeceased by his brothers, Edward (Tom) Kelly and John Kelly, and sisters, Eloise Dolan and Mary Northrup.
Calling hours will be held at Hindle Funeral Home in Dansville on Sunday, November 11 from 1-4pm. A funeral mass will be held at St. Mary's Church in Dansville on Monday, November 12 at 11am immediately followed by a burial service. A lunch will then be served at the Dansville American Legion Post at 34 Elizabeth Street. All are welcome. In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made to the Foundation for Noyes Memorial Hospital in Dansville.