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School book corner to honor Mary Kelley

Mary Kelley (Provided photo)

LAKE PLACID — Rosemary Kelly had an idea after her dear friend Mary Kelley died in February: Create a book shelf in Kelley’s memory in the library of the Lake Placid Elementary School, where she taught for 37 years.

“Then when she met with us,” LPES first-grade teacher Stacey Martin said of the teachers taking on the project, “we were kind of like, ‘Let’s make it bigger and grander for Mary.’ So we decided to do a book nook or corner.”

It seems a book shelf wasn’t big enough for the spirit of Mary Kelley. Perhaps a corner isn’t big enough, either.

“When you walk into the elementary school library, there’s a wall on the right side,” Martin said by conference call with two members of the Mary Kelley Book Corner committee, first-grade teacher Nora Matthews and second-grade teacher Natalee Colby. “The library is graciously giving us the whole wall of book shelves there to fill it with books that are being donated.”

The committee is asking the public for donations of books or monetary donations so the committee can buy books for the project.

“We’re thinking that if there’s a lot of money — because a lot of the same books that Mary loved are already in the library — we may take that money and put it in a trust to have as a scholarship fund in the following years to come,” Martin said.

Books and monetary donations can be sent to: Lake Placid Elementary School, Attn: Mary Kelley Book Corner, 318 Old Military Road, Lake Placid, NY 12946.

Spirit of Mary Kelley

From the time she began teaching fourth grade at the Lake Placid Elementary School in September 1969 until the time she retired as a second-grade teacher in June 2006, Mary Kelley left a lasting impression on generations of students from Lake Placid and Wilmington.

Just before retirement, Peg Rice, whose boys Kagan and Michael both had Kelley as a second-grade teacher, wrote a letter to the editor in the June 2, 2006 issue of the Lake Placid News, saying she admired Kelley greatly.

“Every day after school, my children each had something exciting, positive or touching to say about her. …

“Both boys comment on how she has the nicest way of saying everything. Mrs. Kelley calls her students her ‘little muffins.’ She uses the finest methods of getting children back on track, such as a soft touch on the shoulder or a little wink or a special smile.”

Kelley was known by many names, including “Mrs. McKelley” and “Kissing Kelley.” One of her biggest passions was to read children’s books to students, even after retirement, according to the committee members.

“She would animate them in a way that was all her own, and the children would get so excited when it was story time with her,” the committee wrote. “In between acting out the parts of the stories and narrating them with her ‘Thumb Microphone,’ Mary would always take time to discuss the story, relate it to real life and teach the children new vocabulary words.”

When it was someone’s birthday, Kelley was known to tell a “Magic Kiss” story about the frog, coating her lips with bright red lipstick before giving the student a “Magic Birthday Kiss” on the forehead.

Kelley made everyone feel special, students and adults alike, according to committee members. She was a lot of fun, and she loved to laugh and joke around.

“It was a love for teaching for me,” Martin said about what Kelley taught her. “She instilled that into me that no matter what — the job might be easy, it may be hard some days, you’ll have tough classes, easy classes — she was thoughtful always. The type of teacher you wanted to be was to be like Mary Kelley.”

Graduation time

When she was a third-grade teacher in 1984, the Lake Placid High School graduates chose Kelley to be their commencement speaker. By then, she had taught third, fourth and fifth grades.

As reported in the June 28, 1984 issue of the News, Kelley told parents that they should play an important part in any child’s education.

“I can go through, even today, and remember every teacher that I had in school,” Kelley said. “The majority were beautiful, lovely people who really cared.

“Of all the teachers I had, the two who were most patient, supportive and interested in my development were my parents. I’m sure for most of you, the same is true.

“The role of a parent has to be the most difficult, yet rewarding one in the world.”

Kelley also said high school graduation is a time for students to thank their parents.

“You now have the chance to thank the ones who have been most instrumental in your being here tonight.

“Now it is your turn to show your love and appreciation for all they’ve done by going out and letting the rest of the world know how special you are — something we already know.”

And in 2012, the LPHS graduates chose Kelley to be their commencement speaker. As reported in the June 29, 2012 issue of the News, she told the seniors that “a smile is the greatest asset we have. It says who we are; it cuts across language.” She also encouraged seniors to carry those smiles wherever they go and to “savor each moment.”

About Mary Kelley

Mary Caroline McCarthy Kelley was born on Sept. 7, 1947, in Auburn to Robert and Kathleen McCarthy. She grew up in Watertown, earned a degree in elementary education at SUNY Oswego in 1969, and the Lake Placid School Board of Education hired her for the 1969-70 school year as a fourth-grade teacher.

Kelley spent much of her time outdoors, according to her obituary. She was an avid runner who conquered many marathons and enjoyed running around Mirror Lake, towing her kids behind in a red wagon.

“She loved the simple things in life like reading a good book, journaling, gardening, playing bridge with her friends, and her daily Price Chopper runs, which were really a social hour,” the obituary stated. “Mary was famous for her handmade, Irish knit sweaters which she gifted to many families that were dear to her heart.”

Kelley spent many summers with her family and friends at their camp on Lake Placid, enjoying waterskiing, tubing, hiking, swimming, and late night checkers games. She also loved canoeing to Whiteface Landing with her daughter, Caitlin, where they ran to Connery Pond.

Soon after her death on Feb. 26 at the age of 73, the Lake Placid Rotary Club dedicated one of its Trivia Nights to Kelley. She was the leader of the Irish Mafia trivia team.

Members of the Mary Kelley Book Corner said they hope to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for their Lake Placid Elementary School library project on Mary’s birthday, Tuesday, Sept. 7.