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Kelley Family Endowed Scholarship honors commitment to Christian education, supports College of Bible & Ministry

Kim Chaudoin | 

Zoe Kelley, Wendell Kelley, Max Kelley, and Victor Kelley at Univ. of Illinois graduation in 1949

From left to right, Zoe, Wendell, Max and Victor Kelley at the University of Illinois graduation in 1949.

When Victor Wendell Kelley, born in Garrett, Illinois in 1889, headed off to college, he was the first and only of his 12 siblings to do so. This pioneering step set in motion a lifelong commitment to higher education and dedication to his faith that continued through three generations of the Kelley family, inspiring a number of family members to attend Lipscomb University. 
His legacy will continue to impact future generations of Lipscomb University students through the newly formed Kelley Family Endowed Scholarship

Dr. Victor Wendell Kelley

Dr. Victor Wendell Kelley

The Kelley Family Endowed Scholarship will be awarded annually to undergraduate students in the College of Bible & Ministry. The scholarship is made possible through a gift from the Kelley Family Christian Charitable Foundation, established by the trust of Wendell J. and Evelyn K. Kelley, Victor’s late son and daughter-in-law.
The seeds for this scholarship were planted more than a century ago when Victor married Erma Zoe Dalrymple, whose family was heavily involved in the Churches of Christ, and he attended what was then Southern Illinois Normal College (today known as Southern Illinois University), in Carbondale, Illinois.
Victor’s grandson David Kelley (’73) explains that at the time SIU “wasn’t dispensing degrees” so he began his career in education.  
“So, he began to teach agriculture in some little schools in Southern Illinois. When he decided that he wanted to get a bachelor's degree, he went to the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign,” David says. “It was here that he became interested in not only teaching, but also in agriculture, especially the growing of fruit.” Victor went on to earn a master's degree and a doctorate in agriculture and was a professor at the University of Illinois for more than 30 years, with his special expertise in the field of pomology. 
In 1928, with Zoe by his side, Victor, along with a small group of others started the first Church of Christ in Urbana, Illinois, right on Main Street. 
“Because it was in the same town as the University of Illinois, a lot of current or future Church of Christ preachers came through that congregation when they attended the University of Illinois theology school,” David explains. “My grandparents hosted and housed preachers such as Ira North, Hugo McCord and Charles Chumley as they continued their education there. Earl West in his biography of Hugo McCord, The Enchanted Knight, wrote of McCord’s time in Urbana: ‘The leading spirit of the congregation was Victor W. Kelley, a professor at the university, who served as an elder of the struggling body of Christians. With his four sons and one daughter the Kelley family provided great strength for the church while Hugo and Lois did part-time work for the pleasant group and helped it grow.’ That church really grew. We remember visiting the church in its second building when we were young kids.”  

Ira North and Charles Chumley at the Kelley home in the late 1950's to early 1960's

Ira North and Charles Chumley at the Kelley home in the late 1950s-early 1960s.

Victor and Zoe were instrumental in starting other churches. The church in Urbana served as a feeder congregation for other churches in central Illinois, many of which were in the Decatur (Illinois) area. “My grandfather sent his sons, including my father, out to all these little churches they had helped start to preach because they didn't have full time preachers,” David explains. “So while they were students at the University of Illinois, his sons were going out preaching at these places.” 
David’s father, Wendell, served in World War II after which he followed in his father’s footsteps and graduated from the University of Illinois, earning a degree in electrical engineering. Soon after his discharge from the U.S. Army, Wendell married Evelyn Kimpel, and after his graduation they moved to Decatur. It was here that Wendell went to work for Illinois Power Company, where he had a tremendous career rising to the rank of president and CEO of the second-largest provider of electricity and natural gas in Illinois. 
It was also here that Wendell and Evelyn reared their five sons and served the church. “They became a moving force behind the church in Decatur, which became a moving force in some other churches that were started in central Illinois,” David says. 
One of the churches that supported the Decatur congregation when David was a child was the Lindsley Avenue Church of Christ in Nashville, where Ira North was preaching at the time. Many of the men Wendell had met at the Urbana congregation and while they were young preachers became his lifelong friends, including North. “That connection pointed him to Lipscomb,” recalls David. 

Wendell and Evelyn Kelley circa 2000

Wendell and Evelyn Kelley (circa 2000)

As a result Wendell and Evelyn sent all five of their sons — Jeffrey, David, Alan, Stephen and John — to Lipscomb. They even financially supported two of their future daughters-in-law in their educational pursuits at Lipscomb. Jeffrey graduated in 1971 and David in 1973. Alan, Stephen and John all attended for several years and transferred to the University of Illinois to pursue degrees not offered at Lipscomb at the time. 
“There ended up being a big Lipscomb connection,” says David. “In fact, if we think about the five of us boys and our five wives, nine of us went to Lipscomb.” And that was just the beginning of a legacy that continues today. The Kelley Lipscomb Family Tree includes:

  • Jeffrey (’71); wife, Marsha (Adams) (’72), son Grant (’09).
  • David (’73); wife, Mary Elizabeth (Hilderbrand) (’76);  David, who was president of Delta Nu social club, was part of starting the club’s Delta NaNaNa, a popular ’50s music show. 
  • Alan, who attended from 1970-72; wife, Angela (Bodine) (attended from 1971-72); their three sons, Benjamin (’04); Nathan (’00), and, wife, Rebecca (Haupt) (’02); and Wendell “Aaron” (’97), and wife, Miranda (Morrow) (’99), and their daughter, Reagan, a junior at Lipscomb this year. 
  • Stephen, who attended from 1972-74.
  • John, who attended from 1979-81; wife, Diana (Friend), who also attended 1979-81. 
  • In addition, numerous Kelley cousins and extended family have also attended Lipscomb. 
The Five Kelley boys and wives in 2017.

Left to right, Jeffrey, David, Stephen, John and Alan Kelley and their wives in 2017.

“We populated Lipscomb quite a bit for a number of years,” recalls John. “It’s a legacy for us. For me, my spiritual walk and educational growth were positively impacted by those years at Lipscomb.” 
To honor Victor’s high value of education and his work in the church, Wendell and Evelyn, who earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Millikin University after raising five sons, established a college scholarship endowment specifically for young people from their home congregation at the Sunnyside Road Church of Christ in Decatur. In addition, upon their passing, Wendell and Evelyn established the Kelley Family Christian Charitable Foundation to support various Christian organizations, mission fields and education. This foundation is governed by the five Kelley sons, who serve as the Trustees.
Now, through the Kelley Family Endowed Scholarship at Lipscomb University, the seed that Victor planted many years ago, that was nurtured for decades by his devoted son, Wendell, will continue to grow and flourish for generations to come as it helps students realize their dream of a Christian education while pursuing kingdom work. Today, Victor’s great-granddaughter, Reagan, carries on the Kelley family legacy as a junior at Lipscomb. 
“My father really thought education was important — but even more important to my father and his father is Christian education,” explains David. “We look forward to the many ways their impact and example will continue to shine brightly through the recipients of this scholarship.”

Make a gift to the Kelley Family Endowed Scholarship