Delta Kelly

Delta Kelly is nominated for County Leader Posthumously
Read about Delta Kelly

Delta Kelly was a fascinating and inspiring woman!  She was an energetic activist long before activism was even part of our vernacular.  The first Rochester Community school to be named in honor of a woman is the Delta Kelly Elementary School, located at the corner of Gunn and Adams Roads in Oakland Township, dedicated in 2001.

Delta Kelly  received her Bachelor of Science degree and Teaching Certificate in 1934 from Central Michigan University and moved with her new husband, Wendell P. Kelly, to his first teaching job in Rochester, Michigan.  In l945 they moved with their three daughters to an 1840’s farm in Oakland Township (both places being in Oakland County).  She  remained in Oakland Township until she died in l993 at the age of 82. 

In an Eccentric newspaper article titled Delta Kelly, Dedicated to Civic Service, editor Robert Sklar said, “Delta Kelly’s imprint on greater Rochester is best measured by her civic commitment.  She’s a go-getter and perennial volunteer.”

In 1974 she was co-founder and first president of Oakland Township Historical Society and when the Oakland Township formed the Historic District Commission, she was the first chairman.  She held that position for many years. During her tenure, she helped develop and implement the first Historic District Ordinance in 1979 protecting 35 important historic resources in the township  This ordinance and Commission continues today.  Oakland Township Historical Society also continues today as an active preservation organization of 30 years. (See: www.oaklandtownshiphistoricalsociety.org )

Delta Kelly, an avid history buff, was instrumental in researching, writing and publishing an outstanding booklet about the area’s historic homes, “Heritage in Oakland Township” in 1979.  She used the funds from the sale of this booklet, as well as other sources, to spearhead activity to move and restore the historic Goodison House to be the area museum..  Unfortunately, that house was later burned by vandals. But “Heritage in Oakland Township” appears in many libraries and continues to be sold today. She also wrote a series of columns for the Rochester Eccentric Newspaper chronicling the history of Oakland Township.

The Historical Society of Michigan honored Delta with a Volunteer Recognition Award in l985 (written about in the September-October 1985 issue of the Historical Society of Michigan Newsletter).

In addition to all her community accomplishments,  being a journalist for the Observer Eccentric Newspaper, raising a family of 5 children, and helping with the work of running the farm, Delta taught at several rural and one-room schools in Oakland County from 1935 until her retirement in l973.  During the last 14 years of her teaching career she taught third grade at Baldwin School in Oakland Township. At Baldwin School she was instrumental in organizing the Baldwin School Environmental Student Council and its Nature Study Area, where she promoted students becoming partners with the land.

Delta Kelly’s incredible energy and her zest for life have left us a legacy of understanding about both the history and the natural order of our community in Oakland  Township.  This dedicated woman once spent two years identifying and mapping flood plains, woodlands, steep slopes, and wetlands in all areas drained by Paint Creek and its tributaries.  Her findings were used to develop Oakland Township’s first wetlands ordinance, which today forms the heart of the township development plan.  This plan is used by township officials to ensure that the rural beauty and natural resources here continue to be maintained.  Imagine the tenacity it must have taken for one individual to complete a project of this scope! 

Delta Kelly was co-chairman of the Bi-Centennial Steering Committee in 1975, along with two co-chairmen from Rochester and Avon Township (now Rochester Hills).  She was also a Girl Scout and Brownie leader, a 4-H Club leader, and a Sunday School superintendent and choir member at historic Paint Creek United Methodist Church in Goodison..  She taught chair caning (and basket weaving) for 20 years with the Rochester Community Education Program.  She was a member of the Environmental Enrichment Committee, Oakland Audubon Club, the historic Paint Creek Methodist Church, the Rochester Women’s Club (past president),  the Oakland Township Historical Society (first president), the Oakland Township Open Spaces Committee, the Oakland Township Association, and a past president of the Paint Creek Cemetery Association. Delta was so involved with the Paint Creek Cemetery Association, an organization supporting Paint Creek Cemetery since 1865, that she even spent many years from middle age until just a few years before her death helping to dig and fill in graves for interments there. 

In addition , she was a Natural Beauty Roads petitioner, flood plain and tree inventory worker, and an Oakland Township annual tree sales worker.  She was a leader in creating the Baldwin School’s Nature Center and followed her initial spade work in the project with untold hours caring for it.  In  the l940’s she belonged to the Goodison  Scout Committee, which built a one-room scouting center through fund-raising efforts which  is still in use today by Scouts.  Delta participated in the actual physical work of  building the structure. 

At a dedication of a National Register of Big Trees marker, Delta Kelly received special thanks for her efforts in recommending that the huge l973 National Champion Schuette Oak Tree be added to Oakland Township’s protected sites under Ordinance 37-A.  The oak is estimated to be 400 to 500 years old!  

Delta Kelly viewed Oakland Township with a long-range perspective, always striving to preserve the historical resources and buildings, while guarding the natural resources for the future. 

When the Rochester library received a grant from the Michigan Council for the Humanities, Delta worked with the coordinating committee, tape recording interviews  as part of an Oral History Workshop history taping survey.  A special program for the whole community was held featuring a slide/tape show with narration by local historian, Delta Kelly, in 1976.  

At the ground-breaking ceremony for the Delta Kelly Elementary in 2001, Principal Marsha said, “Mrs. Kelly’s love of the natural world, her fascination with local history, and her skill as a writer and author could not provide a more fitting foundation on which to build a school community.  What more could we want for our children than to instill in them an appreciation for our past, a responsibility to take care of their environment, and the commitment to be an active part of their community?” 

In a story titled “Heart of the Hills Historian” in The Vintage View newspaper in l987, writer Merritt Romine (himself a renowned historian) said, “Delta is vitally interested in local history.  Today she is recognized as one of the most astute scholars of Rochester area history”. 

What a fitting tribute to a woman who was such a vibrant, energetic and dedicated member of her Oakland Township and Rochester area community!

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