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Mary Kelley Book Nook

Children’s bookcase memorializes well-loved former teacher

Tim Kelley cuts the ribbon for the new Mary Kelley Book Nook Tuesday, Sept. 7 at the Lake Placid Elementary School, where his late wife taught various grades. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — Lake Placid Elementary School students walked past a new wooden bookcase across the hall from the office on the first day of school, most never knowing the former teacher it memorializes.

It was Tuesday, Sept. 7. Mary Kelley would have been 74 years old that day, her birthday; she died peacefully at home surrounded by loved ones on Feb. 26.

At the beginning of the summer break, several teachers took on a special project — raising money to build and stock a children’s bookcase honoring Kelley, who taught here for 37 years. She was well known and well loved for reading books to kids.

Kelley began teaching Lake Placid Elementary School students in September 1969 — representing many grades over the years — first as a fourth-grade teacher and finally as a second-grade teacher when she retired in June 2006. She left a lasting impression on generations of students and inspired some of those students to become teachers.

“I think it’s a real testament to Mary Kelley that after she’s retired … she’s made such an important mark on our community that the community joined together and not only created this but exceeded our expectations for the donations,” LPES Principal Sonja Franklin said Tuesday after a ribbon-cutting ceremony for what’s called the Mary Kelley Book Nook. “It really shows how much she touched all sorts of lives through multiple generations.”

The Mary Kelley Book Nook at the Lake Placid Elementary School was dedicated on Tuesday, Sept. 7. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Franklin said Kelley’s legacy was a love of learning: “I think it was an appreciation for each other and their individual uniqueness. And I think it was that idea that, as a community, we work together, we learn together, we grow together and we are a part of raising that future.”

Kelley was known by many names, including “Mrs. McKelley” — a combination of her maiden and married names of McCarthy and Kelley — and “Kissing Kelley.” One of her biggest passions was to read children’s books to students, even after retirement.

“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 Mary Kelley Book Nook 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 a frog, coating her lips with bright red lipstick before giving the student a “Magic Birthday Kiss” on the forehead.

Those kisses were honored by marking each book on the shelves with an illustration of red lips — on the bottom of the spine where a library number would be located.

Jim McCarthy and his wife Polly, far right, Tueday, Sept. 7 look at a new bookcase at the Lake Placid Elementary School made to memorialize his sister Mary Kelley, a former teacher at the school. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

The bookcase was originally planned for the school’s library, but that fell through.

“But that’s OK because now all of us get to see it every day when we walk by,” said teacher Stacey Martin, a member of the Mary Kelley Book Nook Committee.

More than $4,000 has been raised so far, and funds over the amount needed for the book project will be used for a scholarship.

“I intend to start a scholarship in Mary’s name to be given to any student going into the field of education who best reflects the personality and attributes Mary exuded to all she taught or knew on a personal level,” Kelley’s husband Tim said in an email after the event.

The bookcase was constructed by volunteers — Natalee, Jarrod, Liam and Shea Colby; and Frank and Kirsten Lawrence. The pine slabs were donated by Kevin Ackerman, a retired school teacher from the school district in Watertown, where Mary grew up.

A photo of Mary was placed on top of the bookcase.

“We were together for 42 years,” Tim said, looking at the photo after he cut a green ribbon on the bookcase, “and she looks just as beautiful in that picture as she did in 1978.”

Tim was joined by family, friends, teachers and former colleagues of Mary for the 4 p.m. ceremony, which was followed by a reception outside the school.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Tim said. “It’s a great tribute to an exceptional teacher. She put her whole being into this school, and I know that every single kid that she touched, she loved. … I know with Mary, if you got in trouble for whatever reason, or if the class got in trouble for whatever reason, they all — either individually or collectively — knew that Mary loved them.”