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Remembering Jack: The man who set the record straight about Fall City, Jack Kelley, dies at 83
Jack Kelley, the man who brought Fall City's history to light and helped create its present infrastructure, has died at age 83.
Born on December 26, 1929, in Snoqualmie, young Jack Elnathan Kelley was raised in Fall City, where he grew up absorbing the stories of this small, unincorporated King County community.
Decades later, when he retired from a career as a Boeing engineer, he wrote and published the tales of his childhood. He went on to publish a seminal history of the town, “Jack’s History of Fall City,” in 2006.
Kelley died on Thursday, Jan. 3, in Bellevue. He is survived by his wife Judy Kelley, three children, two stepchildren, several grandchildren and one great-grandchild. No memorial service is planned. A full obituary is on page 13.
If it ain’t broke
Besides his books, Kelley was a civic booster, spearheading the organization of Fall City’s first parks and water districts.
“Jack Kelley is synonymous with Fall City,” says Terri Divers, manager of the Fall City Water District.
“Jack had a saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” she said. “Jack was always about not making changes to Fall City that weren’t needed. He always wanted to preserve the rural character of Fall City.”
The changes that Divers remembers Kelley bringing were needed. First was the water district that was formed partly through the leadership of Kelley in the early 1980s, when citizens assumed responsibility for what had until then been a private company.
Divers worked with Kelley in the formation of the Fall City Parks District in the late 2000s when residents again came together in an effort to preserve citizen control of local parks.
“I remember when I got the call from Jack, ‘I want to form a park district, will you help?’” Divers told the Record. “Jack always knew the value of a district and was first to say, ‘let’s form a district.’”
Ruth Pickering, president of the Fall City Historical Society, worked closely with Kelley on his books. She says Kelley brought history to the forefront, and got his neighbors excited about it.
“He was such a generous guy, so generous with his time,” Pickering said. She remembers how, when a new neighbor moved in, he’d knock on their door and tell them about the history around them—sometimes in their own new house.
From childhood, Kelley was connected with the lives and tales of his town.
“He got infected at an early age with a lot of these stories,” and with a fascination for history, Pickering said.
The 2002 issue of Fall City Neighbors newsletter relates his childhood: Playing the trumpet at Fall City Grade School, in grade three, perfoming in the school operetta, being a Boy Scout, serving hundreds of hours in the spotting tower for the U.S. Army Air Force Aircraft Warning Service, reporting planes over Fall City. When he was 10, he took on the job of minding the family plumbing, heating and wiring store. He made 25 cents a week for an allowance, working while other children played.
Kelley told the Record in a 2008 interview how his mother and father talked about Fall City at the breakfast table.
“I soaked in some of it,” he said. “I like the town; I like the people.” His reflections on the town’s past were a gift to them.
Kelley started jotting down some stories while vacationing on a Hawaii beach in 1989, when he retired from his career as a Boeing engineer. He published many of those stories under the title “Life and Times of a Small Town Kid” in the early 1990s.
Later, Kelley turned his attention to writing “a more accurate history — something more like a textbook.” He spent countless hours interviewing townspeople, poring over primary records and reading microfilmed Valley Record articles.
History is valuable to anybody, Kelley told the Record. “Without history, you don’t have any backbone to hold you straight up,” he said.
Before the society formed, Kelley served as a one-man historical society. Writing his book, he attracted letters and photos from families whose own children weren’t interested in the past.
Jack’s History “is long on the facts and figures, names and backgrounds and lot numbers. Which is really important,” Pickering said.
The society’s own Fall City Memory Book, which was anecdotal, more based on stories, came later, and was a perfect complement.
“He was such a smart guy,” Pickering said. “He would take the engineering head of his and really research something, put it together in a rational way.” He was never afraid to stick to his guns if he didn’t agree with you, either.
“Jack could be, shall we say, irreverent,” Pickering said. “He called it like he saw it,” and that showed in his stories.
The real Jack
According to his wife, Judy, the ‘real’ Jack was a perfectionist in everything he did. He never took shortcuts. Intelligent, clever, and practical, he never took himself too seriously.
He was also animated and gregarious, and had wicked sense of humor.
“Like his dad, his language was quite colorful and he always used the same litany of expletives when it came to something like hitting his thumb with a hammer,” Judy remembers.
Jack was quiet and businesslike at work. At times, he presented a rather gruff exterior in public, but he was a pussycat at home, says his wife. Judy remembers Jack as selfless, loving and forgiving, too.
He instilled a sense of self-worth in his children and gave advice only when asked, she said. He believed his children needed to learn their own lessons in life. He was non-judgmental of their actions, so they felt comfortable in confiding in him. He had a healthy respect for women, which he learned early on from the good example set by his dad toward his mother.
“My dad did the right thing, even when no one else was looking,” says Kelley’s son, Mark.
Kelley was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease 14 years ago. Although he was frustrated with the inability to perform tasks that required small motor skills, like writing or holding a screwdriver, he accepted that he had an incurable, progressive disease, and knew there wasn’t a whole lot he could do about it. He never complained.
Kelley’s walking deteriorated and his reactions became slow. He bought an old golf cart to run around town in. He was so excited to try it out, Judy recalled, he drove it over to see Divers at the water district. He thought he was stepping on the brake, but gave it the gas and ran right into the side of the building. Luckily, no one was hurt.
One of his first symptoms was a low voice, which eventually became a whisper, making communication difficult for everyone. That was hard, because he loved a good discussion or to share a funny story. He never seemed to mind when he was asked to repeat himself time after time. It got to the point where it was easier for the family to do most of the talking. According to Judy, he loved to hear stories read to him from the Fall City Memory Book.
“It was rough,” Pickering remembers of the challenges of writing the book as Kelley’s voice grew fainter. “I was immensely grateful that we got the book done while he was able to be part of it.”
"Jack's History of Fall City" is available at the Fall City Historical Society website and at Farmhouse Market store in Fall City.