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November 07, 2019

The Life of Dorothy Kelly Part III

August 16, 2018


       In Part II of Dorothy Kelly’s story she and Jack had just gotten married on May 1, 1947. Soon after, they moved to Spokane, Wash., where they planned to make their home. Jack went to work in a dry cleaning establishment, and Dorothy at the Aetna Credit Bureau.According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the 1940s Spokane had a population of approximately 122,000; enough to qualify it as a city. Despite living in a city that had more to offer than a small town, Dorothy remembers feeling a great loneliness. She missed small-town living; a slower pace and the interpersonal benefits of a close-knit community. 


          By October, they decided to come back to the Imperial Valley. They eventually found a nice apartment on Brighton Avenue in El Centro, and Dorothy worked as the secretary of Mr. B.A. Harrigan, who was the Agricultural Commissioner. She was very happy with her work and made many friends. Jack, however, was determined to start his own dry cleaning business.

Once again, there was an interruption in the status quo. In the fall of 1947, he left for Silver Spring, Md., for three months, to receive intensive training at a dry cleaning school. Dorothy, unfortunately, had to stay behind to keep her job, as well as the apartment. She missed Jack while undergoing this new transition. She describes those days as “. . . a very lonely time for me.” 


          But better days were ahead, and upon Jack’s return three months later things started falling quickly into place. They purchased an old car, and after what Dorothy terms “many trials,” she learned to drive. They moved back to Holtville, and in 1948 they opened a small dry cleaners, and named it Kelly’s Cleaners. Dorothy remembers it as a great time for her and Jack. They were caught up in a whirlwind of moving, starting a business, and making friends. This was to be the beginning of a new period in their lives. By the 1950s they have moved their cleaners into a new building on Holt Avenue and. by the end of that same decade, had expanded to include another cleaner business in El Centro. Things were definitely looking up.


          Integrated into this happiness, was the blessing of starting a family. Dorothy remembers the birth of Kieran, Kathleen, Mary Lynn, and Patrick John. All born, with the exception of Patrick John, in the 1950s. “My duties while the children were still home were varied. I was a wife, mother, housewife, taxi driver, nurse, gardener, consoler, seamstress, and the list could go on and on. As a family, we were busy with the children. Both of us participated and helped in many ways at their school. With high school we attended open-house, dinners, plays, football games, recitals, and anything else that came up.” 


          During this period, she and her husband forged many friendships. One of her memories includes Woman’s Club Past-President Joan Thornburg, and her husband Ron.

“Making salsa with Joan and Ron Thornburg was a yearly event for many years. We picked the tomatoes and made hundreds of jars of salsa. We had kids and friends as helpers, then divided what we made.” Now , she only buys a small jar of salsa at the store. Nevertheless, she has the happy memories to sustain her.


          One day in the late 1950s, Jack told her he was thinking of going back to school. She had no objections, thinking that it was only a whim, and that he only intended to take a class or two at the most. He was thinking of something else entirely. He approached John Hinshaw, an instructor at IVC, who also owned a small service station in Holtville, and asked his advice.

Jack was worried, because by then, he had a wife, three children, and a business to run. John Henshaw said, “Go for it!” Jack did indeed go for it. He continued his education, and Dorothy continued encouraging him, despite the “wear and tear” it caused the both of them.

Finally, in May of 1963, Jack graduated from San Diego State University and began his teaching career in September 1963. President John F. Kennedy was the speaker at the commencement. On November 22,1963, President Kennedy was killed in Texas. This would be the second president who died or was killed while still serving his term during Dorothy’s lifetime.  


          Starting in 1969, and for the following 20 years, Dorothy went back to work. She worked at Finley School as an instructional aide. Then she worked for 16 years for Earlene Realmuto in special education. Gradually, the hectic years in her life came to an end. Jack and Dorothy celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1996. They enjoyed a few more years of retirement together, but on November 30, 2012, after sixty-six years of marriage, Jack Kelly passed away. It was a sad loss for the community, and a hard blow for Dorothy and her children.  


          Dorothy is now 92. She has the love of her children, and the respect of her community. She still lives in the same house—the one with the bricks from the Harold Bell Wright Ranch —on the facing. And her palm tree is still standing--and growing. Her health, however, is declining, and although her pace is a little slower, she’s the same beautiful and determined person that she’s always been. Health permitting, she’s a regular at Woman’s Club meetings and Book Section, where she’s been a member since the 1950s. On Sundays she still worships at St. Joseph’s Church. She still keeps her hair appointments with Shirley Daniell, and fends for herself as much as she can. She is enduring. Her story can close with her words: “I never became a dancer or a drum major, but I’ve lived a long life that has given me many rewards. What time I have left I will live as best as I can and try to count my blessings each day. I hope I will always have a good attitude.”


          God bless you, Dorothy!   


Marcia R. Jennings is a member of the Holtville Woman’s Club.  

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