Honoring An Icon: Lee Kelly
Joe Glover remembers the New Albany legend and mentor
By Joe Glover
Indiana University Southeast Athletics Director, NAIA Athletic Director’s
Association President, and President of the Rotary Club of New AlbanyWe all have that individual in our life who has helped shape us into the
person we are today. For hundreds – thousands, even – of us in Southern
Indiana, we were fortunate to have shared that same person.
Lee Kelly, former New Albany High School Radio/TV general manager,
passed away on May 25, 2020, at the age of 72. Since then, scores of his
former students have shared memories, tributes, and stories on social media
about the local educator who had an influential and lasting impact on them.
Add me to this long list of protégées who had their lives changed by the
former WNAS Radio/TV teacher at New Albany High School. Mr. Kelly was
the “Voice of the Bulldogs” for over 40 years before retiring. During his
distinguished career, he helped many young, perhaps even naïve, students
find their voice and confidence. His work investing in them would be the
start they needed to launch their careers in some of the most high-profile
and respected jobs in near every major media market in the United States.
Those who know me have heard me say it many times before: Mr. Kelly
was the best mentor I’ve ever been lucky enough to have in my life.
Like all great local educators, he helped me in so many ways that transcended
his “normal” teaching duties. I was one of his sports broadcasters who got
to travel around the state with him on Friday and Saturday nights to cover
Bulldog sports for the radio station. Those trips were educational experiences
that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I believe I learned more about how to
treat people in my three years with Mr. Kelly than during any other time in
my life. He was kind, gentle, polite, and had a laugh that was as contagious
as it was iconic.
Former WNAS sports broadcasters Walt Ferber, Billy Gernon, Mandy
Walker, Matt Denison, Kent Sterling, Larra Overton, Ron Badger, Alex Bozich,
Joe Buchman, Diane Williamson and I all know one thing: We wouldn’t
have the careers we do today in media or sports without the guidance and
encouragement of Mr. Kelly. Mentors matter! And how lucky were we to
have one of the legends right here in Southern Indiana, who made sure
we had endless opportunities and the confidence to pursue our dreams?
Everyone Has A Story
To say there are thousands of stories about Mr. Kelly would probably be
an understatement. I have had people from all over reach out to me with
tales about Mr. Kelly. Some I have heard before; many I heard for the first
time. Some I can share; others remain safely in my confidential memories
to protect the innocent and perhaps not-so-innocent.
I will never forget being able to share three consecutive boys’ basketball
sectional championships with Mr. Kelly. Those broadcasts were terrific, and
I still have a small piece of the basketball nets from each one in my office
today to remind me of those memories. There were also many learning
opportunities while working with Mr. Kelly. Opportunities like never
forgetting the radio equipment we needed to broadcast a game or never
losing the rental car paperwork he entrusted you with, especially when an
Indiana state trooper pulls you over when returning home from a broadcast.
I’ll never live that mistake down!
Whether it was Mr. Kelly kindly questioning us about why we didn’t
prepare more for a broadcast, or his not-so-subtle way of correcting one of
our peers when they were “showing their personality” a bit too much on the
air, every former student has a story. I think it’s a beautiful circumstance that
our stories unforgettably connect four different generations of New Albany
High School students.
Honoring His Legacy
How does one honor a legend’s legacy? A legacy that’s positively impacted
so many of us in our community. Lucky for us, the New Albany-Floyd County
Consolidated School Corporation (NAFCS) has already approved a proposal
to rename the radio/tv studios at New Albany High School after Lee Kelly.
This decision was made by the school board earlier this year, and thankfully
something Mr. Kelly was aware of before his passing, but I think there is an
even better way we can ultimately honor his legacy.
We can all honor Mr. Kelly by being a mentor to others in our community.
We can all step up and do more to help impact the lives of others. We can
genuinely care about our fellow citizens and the youth of our community.
We can ask questions to the students in our lives and show we care about
them and their successes. We can be sources of encouragement and can
help build confidence in others. We can build others up instead of tearing
them down. We can care about people and their well-being despite their
beliefs. We can do all the things we admired most in Mr. Kelly. How better
to honor his legacy than by doing the things he taught us best?
We will all miss Mr. Kelly and his iconic voice with its near-perfect
articulation of every spoken word – but his voice will live on in all of us. We
can hear him now. We can feel him and his influence on us, and I know we
can work every day to be more like him for the next generation of future
leaders who need us now as we needed him then.