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Memorial set for longtime Whittier High coach Donald Kelly

WHITTIER — A memorial service will be held Friday at 11 a.m. in the Vic Lopez Auditorium at Whittier High School for Donald Wade Kelly, a longtime coach and teacher at the high school.

Kelly, whose career at the school spanned nearly 60 years, died on July 13. He was 86.

Fondly known as the “Voice of the Cardinals,” Kelly was the public address announcer for all varsity home football games, a basketball timer for the boys and girls teams, and a timer for the wrestling, volleyball and swim teams for more than 50 years.

“Daddy was truly an inspiration to me, to my children and to so many others whose lives he touched in so many different ways,” said daughter Sharon Kelly Bowe. “He left an indelible mark in this life and we are all so fortunate to have had him as part of our world. I, too, appreciate the generosity of Whittier High School in opening up their hearts as we celebrate a life well lived.”

The Kelly family is inviting community members to share their stories and wear the color red in honor of the school Kelly loved so much.

“Don was loved and respected throughout the Whittier community, but no more so than at Whittier High School, where he gave nearly 60 years of his life as a teacher, coach, announcer, mentor and friend,” said Whittier Union High School District Superintendent Sandra Thorstenson, who graduated from the school along with Principal Lori Eshilian during Kelly’s tenure.

“He was a remarkable teacher, coach and role model to all of his students, including us,” Thorstenson said. “I remember him fondly, especially his infectious smile and enthusiasm for life. He will always be remembered for his invaluable service and the love he had for this school.”

Born on Aug. 14, 1927 in Long Beach, Kelly was the eldest of three sons and a 1944 graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School, where he was on three championship football and track teams.

Kelly joined the Navy at the age of 17 and served on the U.S.S. Chicago during World War II as a radar operator. While in the Navy, he pitched for the ship’s softball team, going undefeated to win the championship pennant of the Orient.

He then enrolled at Long Beach City College, lettering in two seasons of track before earning a bachelor’s degree in education. Kelly received his teaching credential from Cal State Long Beach.

His decades-long tenure at Whittier High School began when he was hired at age 25. He taught world cultures, U.S. history, California history, special education and driver’s education, among many other subjects. Kelly also coached track and field and was involved with the New Horizons academic program.

Kelly retired from Whittier High School in 1990 at the age of 63, but returned to the school for an additional 21 years of service.

He continued to be actively involved in both the Long Beach and Whittier communities. He hosted the “Cardinal Round-Up” every Labor Day weekend at Maggie’s Pub in Santa Fe Springs, where former Whittier High Schoolathletes would get together and reminisce about their time on campus.

The round-up this year is taking place Aug. 29.

“Coach Kelly will be missed by every person he’s touched — his family, former students, athletes and friends alike,” Eshilian said. “He had a powerful impact on many of us who are alumni and currently working at WHS. To us and the rest of the Whittier community, Coach Kelly will always be remembered as the Voice of the Cardinals and so much more. He will be greatly missed.”

Kelly is survived by his brother John, his nieces, daughters Karen Kelly-Dillenbeck and Sharon Kelly Bowe, two sons-in-law, grandchildren and a great-grandson.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Whittier High School Alumni Association, Donald W. Kelly Memorial Scholarship Fund.

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