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Big John Kelley remembered for courage, compassion
By Ashok Selvam | Daily Herald Staff

John P. Kelley


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Published: 3/25/2009 12:00 AM

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If you didn't know Big John Kelley, there's a chance you know one of his children.

But in Schaumburg-area legal, political and community circles, there were few who didn't know him.

Mr. Kelley - who served from 1963 to 1970 as Hoffman Estates' village attorney, practiced law in Schaumburg for more than 50 years and was a longtime player in area Democratic politics - raised eight children in the area after moving in 1958 from Chicago.

Son Bill Kelley, a member of the Harper College board and managing partner of the law firm his father founded, Kelley Kelley & Kelley, remembers he and his brothers sitting in the courtroom watching his father go to work as an attorney.

"I tell you, he helped a lot of people," Bill Kelley said. "He was incredibly giving, compassionate, courageous - just incredibly insightful."

John Porter Kelley's family, including 27 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, are now in mourning. Mr. Kelley, 78, died Sunday night after complications from a stroke he suffered the day before.

He helped found St. Hubert Catholic Church in 1960 in Hoffman Estates. Before the church was built, a pastor was brought in from St. Theresa Parish in Palatine to conduct services at the old Buggy Whip Saloon off Roselle Road, said Kelley's friend Ed Hennessy. He met Mr. Kelley, then 15, when the two were ushers at Arlington Park, and Hennessy met his wife through Kelley's wife of 56 years, Patricia.

Mr. Kelley was also past president of the Lay Advisory Board at Arlington Heights' St. Viator High School, which his seven sons attended.

Mr. Kelley, who was about 6 foot 5 inches tall, was known for his work ethic. Both his parents died within a short period of time by the time he was 18. That prompted him to enlist in the Army during the Korean War. The Army helped pay his way through college at Loyola University in Chicago. He also worked a Chicago cabdriver and attended Loyola Law School at night.

His family credited his faith and his wife with helping him find direction after his parents' deaths.

Those "were the two things that motivated him to keep going and do something with his life," Bill Kelley said.

As one of the first Hoffman Estates residents, Mr. Kelley felt it was his responsibility to be active in the community and help mold it, Bill Kelley said.

His father was a devoted Democrat and president of the Schaumburg Township Democrats. That wasn't always easy in the Republican-leaning Northwest suburbs, but Kelley, who ran for state representative in 1972, also had differing political opinions under his own roof.

One son, Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas Kelley, is a Republican. That led to lively dinner conversations, "but it was never heated," he said.

One place where the family gathered without worrying about politics was Comiskey Park. Five sons joined their father in 2005 for Game 2 of the World Series.

A visitation will be held 3 to 9 p.m. Friday at Ahlgrim Funeral Home in Schaumburg, with a Mass at 9 a.m. Saturday at St. Hubert in Hoffman Estates. Burial will be private.

The family requests donations in Kelley's name be sent to Franciscan Outreach Association, 1645 W. LeMoyne St., Chicago, IL 60622, or the Schaumburg Township Food Pantry, 1 Illinois Blvd., Hoffman Estates, IL 60169.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Kelley's survivors include sons John, William, Thomas, Timothy, Matthew, James and Martin and daughter Mary Bambenek.