97-Year-Old Volunteer Edmund Kelley is Busy Thursdays at Dell Children’s, UMC Brackenridge

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Recently, the Austin American-Statesman profiled Ed Kelley, a 97-year-old World War II veteran still dedicated to serving. He volunteers every Thursday at two Ascension Seton hospitals, Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas in the morning and University Medical Center Brackenridge in the afternoon. The full story is available on the American-Statesman’s website to those who are newspaper subscribers. Below is a portion of that story.

By Nicole Villalpando, Austin American-Statesman Staff

Each Thursday, Edmund Kelley sits at a cubicle at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas and cuts strips of EKG readings so they will fit on an 8½-by-11-inch form. He then tapes them onto that paper, making sure he has the right patient’s scan with the form and that the strips are perfectly aligned. The forms will then be scanned into the patient’s electronic record so doctors can access them.

It’s a tedious, thankless job, but Kelley knows it’s important to do it right.

Since 1985, he’s been volunteering for Ascension Seton, first at Brackenridge Hospital before it became University Medical Center Brackenridge and then at the Children’s Hospital before it became Dell Children’s.

He’s logged more than 25,000 hours volunteering.

When Kelley first heard an ad on the radio that Brackenridge needed volunteers, he was looking for some way to give back.

“You can’t just sit around and watch TV and play golf,” he says.

You can count on him like clockwork to spend his Thursday mornings at Dell Children’s and his Thursday afternoons doing the same job at Brackenridge.

On a recent Thursday, he could have not come in – after all, it was his 97th birthday. His family had a rib dinner planned for him, but Kelley doesn’t miss a Thursday, unless he has a cold. He schedules his doctor’s appointments and family activities around this volunteer commitment.

“Everything centers around Thursday,” he says. “They plan on me coming here, and I plan on being here.”
Kelley grew up on a cattle ranch in Kansas and learned the value of hard work as a young boy. The cows taught him important life lessons. When a new calf is born, the mother introduces it to the herd and the other cows take turns licking it. They then form a protective circle around it, Kelley explains.

That’s sort of the way he sees his role as a volunteer: to form a circle around the patient even if he’s never met her.
He holds up the volunteer promise that Ascension Seton gives its volunteers. Words like excellence, responsiveness and ownership run through it.

“Remember, you’re dealing with sick people,” he says.

Sometimes when he is taping the EKG to the form, he sees the line go straight across and he knows that he may be looking at a point when a 3-year-old child’s heart stopped. Sometimes the line goes back into the up-and-down pattern and sometimes it does not.

“What I imagine is a parent is devastated,” he says, “but I know they did a lot to save their child.”

Kelley’s years of military service also taught him the value of work, attention to detail and teamwork. He went into the Air Corps division of the Army that later became the Air Force and served for four years during World War II. He worked a desk job mostly in the United States.

He met his wife, Betsy, while on a blind date. A friend of his had a girlfriend in Betsy’s sorority. Kelley married Betsy seven months later. They’ll celebrate their 70th anniversary in May. They have two daughters, Tricia, 57, and Karen, 55.
After Kelley left the Air Force in 1945, he studied business at the University of Houston, but he got recalled into the Air Force in 1950. He stayed through the Korean and Vietnam wars, finally retiring as a lieutenant colonel from the Air Force in 1973. After he retired, he worked for 10 years with the federal government processing disability claims.

At all of his jobs – from approving people for disability to watching the radar to his volunteer work for Ascension Seton – following the process and attention to detail have been important. But Kelley also looks for ways to improve things.

Cheryl Moore, who has known Kelley for 14 years and supervised him, says, “He does a good job. He points out things we can do better. There are things we don’t always see.”

On his birthday, she made sure to stop by to see him.

“You’re amazing, Mr. Kelley,” she tells him.

On weeks she doesn’t see him, she knows he’s been there because he leaves a candy on her desk. He always comes to the hospital with a bag full of candy. He hands it out to the staff with whom he works – one for each of them – or leaves a piece on their desks. He also hands it out to staff and patients as he walks down the hallway.

Kelley loves bringing a smile to people’s faces, Moore says. He’ll tell them as he walks down the hall, “Smile, it looks better,” she says.

It’s the people that keep him coming back, and he has no plans to retire from volunteer work as he retired from the military and the federal government.

“There are people that retired when I did, and they are long gone,” he says.

His daughter, Karen Farnsworth, knows that the volunteer work keeps him going.

“He’s around people of all ages, and it’s very stimulating to meet new people and hear their stories,” she says. “It’s something that means a lot to him. He really gets a lot out of it.”

“He is a wonderful father,” Tricia Chandler, his other daughter, says. “I love him and am very proud of him. He has taught me so much – most notably that family is the most important thing, that people need to stay active and engaged throughout their lives, and to have a strong work ethic.”

Farnsworth echoes that sentiment: “I’m very proud of him,” Farnsworth says. “He’s my hero.”

Kelley doesn’t look for that kind of attention. “It feels good doing a job that helps,” he says.

Then he reminds us that he has work to do. People are counting on him, after all.