Walter Almond Kelley

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  • "Jan, Laura and I were very sad to here about walt. When..."
  • "Jan, I just heard about this from Myra Lee. I am so very..."
    - Jean Cornell
  • "I've been thinking a lot about Walt lately, and it is hard..."
    - Larry Madsen
  • "Walt was so vibrantly engaged and lived life to the..."
    - Laurie Force
  • "Dr. Kelley was truly an amazing man. He made a significant..."
    - Sheri Klas
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Walter Almond Kelley 1942 – 2010 Walter "Walt" Kelley passed away suddenly in the rainforest of Costa Rica on December 31, a place he loved and cared for. He was 68 years old. Walt was born August 20, 1942 in Texarkana, Texas to Franklin Walter Kelley and Lillian Almond Kelley. He spent part of his childhood in Roswell, New Mexico before moving to Southern California. He enjoyed wonderful summers in east Texas with grandparents as well as aunts and uncles, which nurtured his love of gardening and the outdoors. He attended North Hollywood High School and ultimately California State University at Northridge, where he received both his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Biology. It was in an organic chemistry class that he met the love of his life, Janet Baer. After some time as "hiking buddies," Jan and Walt were married April 2, 1971. They moved to Fort Collins, Colorado two years later so that Walt could pursue a PhD in Botany, studying isoenzymes in junipers. It was there that his first son, John came along. Walt finished his dissertation with John in a crib nearby. The family moved to Grand Junction in 1977 when Walt accepted a Professor of Biology position at Mesa State College; four years later his second son, Steven joined the family. Walt spent 30 years at Mesa State, researching and passing on his love of plants. His passionate and talented teaching touched countless students, some of who went on to have careers in related fields, thanks to Walt's inspiration. Beyond his teaching, Walt was deeply dedicated to scholarly pursuits: he contributed to a section of the California Flora, worked on various projects with Nature Conservancy, BLM, the Ute Tribe, Earthwatch, and others. In 1989, Walt traveled to Costa Rica and sparked a 20 year love affair with that rich country. During this time, he became fascinated by the tropics and devoted to the study of Pipers, working in partnership with the Organization for Tropical Studies. Throughout this time, he and Jan took countless trips to Costa Rica to study the plants and language, to explore the stunning landscape and to enjoy the bighearted people. Walt loved it all. Walt was the proudest of fathers and the most loving of husbands. His family was his joy and his world. Throughout the years, he taught his boys to stop and revel in the small mysteries of the natural world, such as the tiny sharp flowers of Cryptantha. He took them to sacred corners of the desert to appreciate wildness and wilderness and to smell juniper trees and sage bushes. In forty years of marriage, the magical spark between Jan and Walt never dimmed. He was as in love on the last day of his life as he was when they married. Though a quiet and humble man, Walt sent significant ripples through the communities around him. He was a figurehead of the neighborhood, caring and watching out for all around him. His endless generosity and gentleness was unparalleled. With his flags waving high, he quietly encouraged a world of tolerance and principle. Walt continues to be loved by his wife, Jan; their two sons, John and Steven as well as their wives, Lauren and Tina. They will plant marigolds every spring because that's what Walt would have done. An extended family nation-wide remembers him. A memorial service will be held at Callahan-Edfast Mortuary on Patterson Road on Friday at 1:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, please donate in Walt's memory to Save the Rainforest or another charity of your choice.
Published in The Daily Sentinel on Jan. 12, 2011