From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
James Benton Kelsey, 63, is dead. His tenacious battle for life over a period of many weary months ended in the grey dawn of yesterday.
Death came at 6:45 o'clock at the Veterans Administration Facility hospital, Wadsworth, where he had been a patient since mid-summer. Nursing the hope that soon he would leave his bed and come back to Leavenworth, he fought to regain his health. He died as he had lived, entertaining no fear.
The body was removed to the Davis funeral church where services will be held Tuesday afternoon at 2 o'clock. Chaplain Frankyn R. Beary will conduct the service.
Burial will be in the Easton cemetery where three generations of Kelseys sleep. Robert A. Kelsey, Easton pioneer, helped lay out the cemetery, atop a hill southwest of the town.
Graveside services will be conducted by members of Byron H. Mehl post of the American Legion and by members of Masonic lodge No. 45 of Easton of which Mr. Kelsey was a past-master.
James B. Kelsey was a man of parts, gifted with a natural eloquence and ready tongue, coupled with a profound knowledge of the law he became one of the leading lawyers of the Leavenworth County bar.
As an educator he progressed from an eighth-grade teacher to county superintendent of schools, pausing along the way to direct two rural high schools, one of which he established.
Responding to the request by President Wilson for a declaration of war against Germany, James B. Kelsey went to Kansas City where he enlisted as a private in the Signal Corps. Two years after the armistice was signed he returned to Leavenworth, wearing the oak leaf of a brevet major.
James Benton Kelsey was born at Easton, April 13, 1879, a son of Eliphalet and Dora Kelsey, and grandson of Robert A. Kelsey, a native of North Carolina who sent to Princeton Mo., in 1846, and from there to Easton in 1864.
Mrs. Kelsey was the former Dora Sparks, died three years after the birth of her son and James went to make his home with his grandfather, remaining there and attending the Easton School until 1895 when he went with his father to McLouth. He was graduated from the McLouth grade school in 1896.
Armed with his certificate, Kelsey sought a country school but was told he was "too young." In the spring of 1897 he was employed by Scott M. Lee and John T. Kirkham to teach their children. That fall he was employed to teach No. 60 school, southeast of Potter. One of his pupils was Judge LeRoy Hand of the city court. He then taught a year at No. 72 west of Easton, and in 1900 he went back at 21 to Easton as principal of the school he had left five years before.
During summer vacation Mr. Kelsey had attended for five terms the Kansas State normal school and was gaining a reputation as an advanced educator. In 1902 he was employed as principal of the Linwood high school, established two years before by E. A. White.
So successful was Mr. Kelsey at the Linwood school that he was employed the next year to establish a high school at Lansing. The late J. M. Gilman had taught the school the year before and had tutored three students in the high school course. Kelsey now was being recognized as one of the leading educators of this section. His services were in demand as a teacher in many normal institutes. Entering the campaign as a Republican candidate for the office of county superintendent of schools, Mr. Kelsey was elected to the office in 1906 and completed four years as principal of the Lansing school before taking office May 1, 1907.
Opportunity now came to realize an ambition Mr. Kelsey had cherished many years. On the day he took over the office of superintendent he began reading law in the office of E. B. Baker, son of the late Senator Lucien Baker. Two years later he enrolled at the Kansas City School of Law, attending night sessions. He was admited to the bar by the Kansas supreme court in 1910. He was graduated from the law school in 1912 and was valedictorian of his class.
While still county superintendent Kelsey became a candidate for county attorney in 1912 and won the nomination in an exciting primary campaign. He was elected and took office in January, 1913. He was not a candidate for a second term.
Returning to his private law practice, Mr. Kelsey remained at his office until his enlistment in the Army. Detailed to the aviation section of the Signal Corps, Private Kelsey was sent to Kelly Field, Tex. Soon he was commissioned a second lieutenant and sent to Rich Field, Waco, Tex. There he finished the flying course and was given command of the 355th Aero Squadron, an outfit which he commanded during the war.
Lieutenant Kelsey was with his command on Long Island under overseas orders when the armistice was signed. His personal baggage was on the way to France. He often spoke with deep regret that he did not reach the fighting front.
The 355th Aero Squadron was disbanded on Long Island and Lieutenant Kelsey was ordered back to Rich Field after electing to remain in the Army. Appointed adjutant of the field, he remained in the service until October 15, 1920, when he resigned his commission and returned to Leavenworth.
Reopening his law office Kelsey soon was engaged busily in handling hundreds of claims under the Kansas soldier bonus law. He served four years as assistant county attorney under Jesse Hall, 1927 to 1931.
Twice Mr. Kelsey was a candidate for Congress on the Republican ticket, opposing W. P. Lambertson. In the 1936 primary he carried every precinct in Leavenworth County by a vote of more than five to one for his oppoinent. He again was a candidate in 1938.
Mr. Kelsey once described himself as the "champion joiner" of the community. His first membership was with the Easton Masonic lodge, the lodge his grandfather helped organize and who was its first master. He had been a member 42 years. In 1913 he became a member of Caswell Consistory and that same year joined Abdallah Temple. At his death he held the office of high priest and prophet. Two years hence he would have been potentate. He was the first dictator of Loyal Order of Moose here and a past exalted ruler of the Elks. For a term he was deputy grand exalted ruler, eastern district of Kansas.
A past commander of Byron H. Mehl post of the American Legion, of which he had been a member 21 years, he also was a past grand chef de train of the 40 & Eight.
For many years a member of the Leavenworth Country club, he was a past president of the organization, and also was a past president of the Kiwanis club. A member of the Leavenworth County Bar Association, he was certified to practice before the United States Supreme Court. He was a member of the National Bar Association.
Mr. Kelsey's marriage to Miss Elizabeth Turner of Montgomery, Mo., was on December 23, 1923. Their home for many years has been at 509 Elm street.
Other than his widow, Mr. Kelsey leaves an aunt, Miss Mattie Kelsey, 524 Chestnut street; and a cousin, James R. Kelsey, an instructor at Leavenworth Junior high school.
"Jim" Kelsey was intensely an American and deeply patriotic. His time and talents never were denied anyone who called upon him. One of Leavenworth's most gifted orators and wise in the way of the world, he never ceased being a country boy who wanted to play.
One of his chief recreations was to drive about country lanes, visiting the scenes of his youth. One of his last trips was to Linwood where he directed the high school and planted a patch of potatoes when school was out. He wanted also to see the Sunflower Ordnance plant at DeSoto.
It was spring and the countryside was alive with budding life and the smell of freshly-turned earth.
"We can make this trip," reflected Kelsey, "because millions of our boys are under arms and other millions are marching to join them. Without this bulwark of defense the Japs or the Germans might be patroling this road over which we travel in peace. I wish it were mine to join those millions of men we're mustering for the battle."
"Jim" long will be remembered by legions who called him friend.