Sisters seldom strayed

Register Editor

Register/Susan Lynn
Jean Still, left, and Donna Valentines are descendants of a family of farmers. Their great-grandather, George Kelly, settled here in 1854.

Sisters Jean Still and Donna Valentine’s Iola ancestors were among the first white settlers when their great-grandfather George Kelly bought a farm here in 1854.
Ever since, the family has stayed closed to its Iola roots.
When a young bride, Donna and her husband, Marvin, tried living in Wichita. After seven months she threw in the towel.
“I said, ‘I’m going home. Are you coming with me?’” With almost 53 years as Mr. and Mrs., it seems he did.
Big sister Jean was more adventurous. She was gone for the better part of 10 years before returning to settle down.
The sisters are daughters of Ralph Theodore (Ted) and Vesta Wilmoth Kelly.
Their grandfather was Joe McClellan Kelly, who in 1891 married Elizabeth Gilkerson whose parents homesteaded here in 1855. Her father, John Gilkerson, helped establish Carlyle. They came from Indiana in 1858. On that harsh trip to Kansas a daughter died in Garnett, the second person buried in Carlyle Cemetery.
Their great-grandfather, George Kelly, was born in 1822 and married Eliza Romine Sherrill in Geneva. He was one of 23 children. What’s especially puzzling is that with such a large family, Jean can’t find where her great-grandfather was born.
“I don’t know where to start,” she said of the myriad paths such a large family would take. “You’d think with 22 brothers and sisters there’d be a hint of information,” she said. “I’ve hit a dead-end on this.”
To boot, “a last name like Kelly in Ireland is like being a Smith in England,” she said of her ancestry. Still, she persists.
“It used to be that people didn’t care about such things. They had too much to worry about with day-to-day living. Now we have the time to pursue such interests. We don’t have to wash our clothes on a washboard.”

JEAN KELLY, born in 1935, was a 1954 graduate of Iola High School. She then attended Iola Junior College, graduating in 1956. From there she moved to Wichita where she worked at the NuWay Sandwich Shop on Douglas Street.
It was there that she met Wayne Still and they married in 1964. He worked as a job shopper, traveling to various states helping chiefly the automobile and aeronautics industries trouble-shoot employment problems. Jean accompanied Wayne and his job across Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee and Iowa for four years. In between jobs, they’d come to Iola and stay with family. Finally, they decided to make Iola their home and Wayne took a job at Iola Molded Plastics for a brief time before taking on with the Iola Police Department. He stayed with the department for about 25 years, serving as chief for one year.
In 1994, they divorced and Jean began work at Bonnie’s Cafe in Gas, where she continues to work today. She lives in the house in which she grew up at 419 N. Walnut. Her father died in 1992; her mother in 1994.
Iola appeals to her probably for much the same reason it did her ancestors. “It’s small and friendly. When I lived in Wichita, I could walk anywhere and feel comfortable. When I go there now, you couldn’t get me to walk across the street. It has changed so much. People are different now.”

DONNA KELLY was born in 1941. One month shy of her 17th birthday she and Marvin Valentine were married.
“Everyone told me not to, that it wouldn’t last,” she said. In less than three weeks they’ll celebrate their 53rd anniversary.
“I wouldn’t trade anything I’ve done — for anything,” she said.
At 68, she credits her energy to “exercising every day.” She’s a regular at the Iola Recreation Department’s seniorcize and fills in for instructor Maude Burns when she is away.
Longevity also runs in the family. She recalls her Uncle Ed living on a farm near where the ACCC Farm is today well into his nineties.
Her father, Ted, worked as a mechanic for Ellis Motor Company and then Arbuckle’s garage into his eighties, when he then became “a backyard mechanic.”
While her sister’s interest is with the family’s geneology, Donna has focused on Iola. In 2003, she compiled photos and historical tidbits and made a loosely bound book, primarily for her son Marvin Leon. The interest of others in the book prompted her to print “a hundred and some” copies. The books can be found at the Allen County Historical Society as well as Iola Public Library.
Donna Valentine is a great-grandmother, “many times over.”
Her son, Marvin, is married to Cheryl Christian. They live in Burlington where he works for Wolf Creek nuclear power plant. They have three children; daughters Autumn and Ashley, and a son, Brandon. Autumn, in turn, has a daughter and Ashley has two daughters.
Donna’s daughter, Teresa, is married to Victor Edwards. They have two daughters, Sha-Dawna and Serisa. Sha-Dawna and her husband, Chris Scheibmeir, have a son, Gage. Serisa has a daughter, Kaydra.