If you want a good example of the love and respect articulated for the late Bill Kelly, check out Adam Watson’s front page photo appearing in last week’s Broad Top Bulletin. In that photo a sea of firefighters and other first responders turned out to remember their close friend and associate who died May 1.
The 92-year-old William Leonard “Bill” Kelly of Saxton was laid to rest in the Grandview Cemetery at Saxton May 6 following a weekend of remembrance shared by his many friends, associates and family members. There’s no doubt about it: he will be missed by many with a special emphasis on the Saxton Volunteer Fire Co. and Ambulance Division of which he was an active member for decades.
Testimonies of Kelly’s contributions to the Saxton/Broad Top area were many and very deserving of a man who was dedicated to making his community a better place to live. His legacy is securely cemented and worthy of repeating to each new generation of community leaders stepping up to the plate in a time when volunteerism appears to be on the decline.
Most folks who worked with Bill Kelly, whether it is in the community, with the fire company and ambulance service, on Saxton Borough Council, or a host of other endeavors, will quickly testify to the steadfastness demonstrated by this man.
Bill Kelly was a person of conviction who never hesitated to state his case and purpose. He compromised often but never lost sight of the goal post. Always armed with knowledge of his mission, Kelly made it a point to argue when necessary, listen to the other side of the story and when all the facts were laid out, take appropriate action!
I first met Bill Kelly in the early 1970s when I assumed the duties of editor of the Saxton bureau of The Daily News which opened its doors at 710 Main Street, Saxton, in January of 1971. He was instrumental in providing me with information and assistance when I was called out for a fire or accident.
During periods of natural disasters, like the “Flood of 1972,” the Saxton Fire Hall often became a second home for this reporter. And if you needed some information and assistance, Bill Kelly was the man to see.
Actually, I had the honor of working with Bill’s father, the late William H. Kelly, who served as president of the Robertsdale Lions Club for a number of years. I remember joining Bill Kelly Sr. in the presentation of flags to the East Broad Top Railroad during the mid-1960s as southern Huntingdon County and the Broad Top area pursued the reopening of the entire, 33-mile-long EBT.
Years later, when young Bill Kelly became very active with the Saxton Borough Council and efforts to enhance the community’s water and sewer systems, this writer was thankful to the Saxton leader for his many acts of kindness and assistance in tracking down a newspaper story or snapping a good photograph.
Appreciative of the Saxton/Broad Top’s history, particularly the H&BT and the iron-making industry, you often saw Bill in attendance at local restoration events like the Keystone Foundry Museum dedication at Hopewell during the early 1990s (as a retired union iron worker, Bill naturally identified with efforts to preserve and recognize the industry).
Recognized for his 35 years as an elected official, including the positions of council president and vice president for many years, Kelly helped shape Saxton Borough’s image from the days of a railroad town to a modern day community with a connection with a new industry: tourism.
His accomplishments as an elected official and civic leader were many as was his commitment to his parish, the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church at Dudley, his involvement in the church’s building, food bank and Ave Maria Cemetery committees. In addition to being an activist in the Knights of Columbus, Bill was also honored for his involvement in other church activities including the bingo committee.
But it was Bill’s 73-year association with the Saxton Volunteer Fire Co. that best describes his obligation to community and humankind. As noted in his May 3 obituary, he was the recipient of numerous awards honoring him for many years of devoted service to the fire company and its ambulance division.
He served as president, vice president, fire chief, chief engineer and trustee as well as an activist on many fire company committees and other noteworthy positions. Some of his coveted awards included Fireman of the Year, Fire Chief’s Award, Unit Commendations for lives saved and Outstanding Service accolades.
As an activist with the fire company’s ambulance division Bill served as chairman for many years, received the EMT of the Year Award and was honored as the longest living active EMT in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by the Southern Alleghenies EMS Council. In addition, he was recognized with honors from the state Senate and House of Representatives.
Kelly was also active in the Saxton Boy Scout Troop 471 and served as a mentor for Eagle Scouts. In 2017, he was a recipient of the Bedford County Sports Hall of Fame Award recognizing him for his valuable leadership and knowledge in civic affairs in the community of Saxton.
Born on April 1, 1927 in Pittsburgh, Bill was united in marriage to the former Josephine “Jo” Giornesto on Aug. 7, 1947, a marriage that spanned 71 years until his passing on May 1, 2019. He is survived by his wife, at home, two children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, along with a sister and a number of nieces and nephews.
Memorial services were conducted by the Saxton Volunteer Fire Co. May 5 honoring Bill Kelly, followed by a funeral Mass at the ICC at Dudley. As Adam Watson’s photo dramatized, a large delegation of firefighters from Saxton and neighboring fire companies was on hand to escort Bill through his community one last time.
On May 6 relatives, friends and associates paid their last respects to a man who left his mark on the community and in doing so helped to make that community a better place to live. His dedication and commitment to serving others is a great testimony to his love for humanity and making the world a better place to live.
Thanks Bill, for always being there. You will be missed by many and never forgotten.