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- More from Burt Constable
Sitting in the family living room where vibrant Kelly Meloney died, her loved ones weep at their loss even as they laugh at memories of the daughter, sister and friend who brought them such joy.
"It's surreal," says Kelly's father, Dave Meloney, a working man who wipes tears from his eyes in the struggle to figure out how it came to this.
On Feb. 13, Kelly's 26th birthday, she had an exciting new job and was engaged to her college boyfriend, Cole Vertz. She also had a nagging pain.
"Mom, I'm fine," Kelly would reassure Linda Meloney.
"Her legs were hurting, but she's a dancer," her dad says.
Kelly couldn't remember a time when she wasn't a dancer.
"At 2 years old, she was in ballet class," Linda Meloney says, beaming as she tells how Kelly, with year-and-a-half-younger sister Kimberly, moved from beginner classes to study at the Dance Academy of Libertyville. Kelly was on the pom squad and dance team at Mundelein High School and then at Western Michigan University, where she graduated with a major in journalism and a minor in dance. Kelly was a junior and Kimberly was a freshman when their Western Michigan squad danced at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. It was the last time they danced together in a public performance.
"I've never seen sisters so close growing up, like two peas in a pod," says Barbara Dolan, whose daughter is a lifelong friend of the Meloney girls.
Kelly answered to "Kim-Kelly," and Kimberly still answers to "Kelly-Kim." Kimberly would have been the maid of honor at Kelly's wedding, and Kelly will be listed as the maid of honor at Kimberly's wedding.
Kelly was diagnosed with bile duct cancer on Feb. 17 and eventually came home to Mundelein. Kimberly quit her job in Wisconsin and came home to care for her big sis.
Lots of people refer to Kelly as their "sister."
"She is an excellent writer, tells amazing stories, lights up a room with her husky blue eyes, enjoys snowmobiling, would kill to see the Nutcracker ballet at Christmas, has an outstanding sense of humor and the most consistent and contagious laugh of anyone I've ever met," fellow TV reporter Holly Morgan wrote in a blog about her "best friend."
Having left an exciting TV career that took her to Michigan, Milwaukee and Wyoming, Kelly was launching a new career in Kansas City as a sales representative and blogger for Bloch dance shoes when the devastating diagnosis came down and the family rushed in.
"We lived out of a suitcase in a hotel for a month," Linda Meloney says. The family often had to close their Lake Pools swimming pool business during the busiest time of the year to care for Kelly.
With Kelly unable to get extensive health insurance because of the ulcerative colitis she developed as a child, the Meloneys say they spent between $40,000 and $50,000 on everything from doctors, tests and expensive drugs to organic foods and other attempts to save Kelly's life.
Through it all, Kelly remained upbeat and urged people "to live in the moment." Her life inspired many of her "dancing buddies" (amateurs and professionals of all ages) to host a "Dancing for Now" benefit concert at 3 p.m. Sunday at Mundelein High School. For details, visit www.wix.com/Dancing_For_Now/Benefit4Kelly.
"I have known them since they were little girls in pink tutus, and now they have become such caring and active young women whose hearts and actions are definitely in the right place," says Carol Riebandt of Long Grove, who, with fellow dance mom Corrine Levine of Buffalo Grove, is organizing the auction.
A growing list of auction items includes baseball bats autographed by the 1969 Chicago Cubs and the 2005 World Champion White Sox, a 2010 Blackhawks puck, a 2007 Bears football, tickets to the Joffrey Ballet and more.
"We are fortunate," Dave Meloney says, noting how many friends and relatives have offered help and comfort.
Kelly, who died at home on May 22, certainly knew how to make friends.
"She'd walk into a room full of strangers," Dolan says, "and walk out with a room full of friends."