Telling Me What I Need to Hear: Charles Kelley

I’ll be honest. This summer has been rough. Nothing serious. Just several unexpected life changes happening in the course of a month that have upset my very routined life. It’s been the kind of time where I’ve had to stop and remind myself of the things that ARE going well, you know?

Yeah. You know.

Okay, so keep that in mind while I tell you about my great-grand uncle, Charles Russell Kelley.

Charley was born near Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in July 1871. He was the eighth child and fourth son of John W. and Eliza Hurd Kelley. When he was four, he moved with his family to the western edge of Iowa. His parents were farmers, and they settled in Lewis Township, just outside Council Bluffs. He went to school, of course, and, when he was 21, married Mary Cleary, the daughter of an Irish immigrant who worked for the railroad. Charley and Mary married across the river in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1892. Quite a few of the Kelley siblings married there. Perhaps it was the fashion to go to the big city to tie the knot, or maybe that’s where the Kelleys attended church. In either case, they settled in Council Bluffs proper afterward.

The couple had two children: Charles Jr., born in 1893, and Florence May, born in 1897. Charley was listed as a teamster—someone who drove a team of work animals for a living—in the 1900 census. Not the most lucrative of jobs, but they must have been doing all right because they had a servant to help take care of their children.

In 1910, Charley was a caller at the railroad. If my research is correct, he was the one that announced arrivals and departures at the train station.

In April 1912, he was appointed as a detective in the Council Bluffs police department.

He and his partner, Joe Rauterkus, saw all sides of their small city while solving crimes to be sure. According to city records, they dealt with a lot of burglary, assaults, and domestic disputes. Not a lot of murders in the small Midwestern town. Every day after work, Charley would take the bus home to his family and have dinner. He had worked hard for this life, moving up incrementally from farmer to teamster to become a cop when he was 41 years old. He found that the police force demanded an energy that is more plentiful in a younger person.

One day in the winter of 1927, Charley woke up, washed himself, had breakfast, and said goodbye to Mary and the kids. The usual. He got on the bus, probably thinking about the day ahead, and completely unaware what was in store for him.

Council Bluffs Nonpareil (Council Bluffs, IA), 9 Dec 1927, page 7, column 7-8, item 1.

Detective Kelley laid in bed for two weeks after his stroke, being cared for by family and friends who most likely knew what was coming. People prayed for him in churches and delivered food to the family. What a terrible time it must have been for them. Everything falling apart in the time it takes to ride the bus to work.

Yes, the moral here is a bit cliched.

Don’t take any of it for granted, all the Christmas stories tell us. Every second is precious, the self-help books profess. But I think the reason we hear that message so much is because WE NEED TO HEAR IT SO MUCH.

I certainly needed to hear it. Yeah, I’m unemployed and have some health issues. But that’s temporary. I can walk outside right now and take the bus anywhere I like. I can have dinner with my loved ones at the drop of a hat. I can still have that nice, quiet life because I’ve worked hard to move incrementally up the career ladder, despite my work being better suited perhaps to someone much younger than my 44 years. These are important reminders. All is not lost.

Sources for this post will be here shortly.

This was written for Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors. #52Ancestors

Published by


I am a writer for an e-Learning course vendor near Chicago.

Tell me about it.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s