William “Bill” F. Kelly, Jr. was born on August 25th, 1921, in Dansville, NY, to Agnes and William Kelly, Sr. Bill graduated from Dansville High School in 1939 and received a BS in Horticulture from Cornell University in 1943. He had joined ROTC during college and after his graduation he joined the US Army. His unit left NYC on Christmas Day, 1944 and was deployed to Bastogne, Belgium. He would see action in Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria, and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant.
During the Battle of the Bulge, Lt. Kelly served as a forward artillery observer with the 11th Armored Division of the 3rd Army, an extremely dangerous job; his ten predecessors had all been killed in the line of duty. His task was to travel up to six miles ahead of the front line and, using binoculars, identify enemy sites and radio their positions back to the Allied artillery, providing frontline intelligence.
At the end of the war, he was assigned to lead forty men to guard a salt mine in Altaussee, Austria. When he and Monuments Man George Stout entered the mine to see what was hiding inside, they discovered large underground chambers that held 6,600 priceless paintings, 140 sculptures, and countless other artifacts that had been looted by the German army from museums, churches and private homes. All were intended for the Führermuseum in Linz, Austria.
After his role at Altaussee ended, Lt. Kelly became a Military Government Officer in the agricultural section in Germany, most likely due to his educational background. He was discharged, and subsequently returned to his native Dansville. He joined the family business, Kelly Brothers Nurseries, and would later serve as President. Kelly Brothers was founded in 1880 and was Dansville’s largest employer until it’s sale in 1985.
He played an active role in the community, including being a longstanding member of the Union Hose Company and the Dansville Rotary Club (of which he was President from 1958 1959). It was at the Rotary Club that he first met Dolly McFadden, his future wife. She gave a presentation there on her experiences as a foreign exchange student in Germany after the war, and they married on August 18th, 1956. They were married for 60 years before Dolly passed away.
Bill 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. He 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. He was inducted on the Dansville Wall of Pride in 2016.
Bill Kelly, Jr. died at home in Dansville on November 6th, 2018, at the age of 97.