A Colonel From Cleveland: The H. Kendall Kelley Story

United States Figure Skating Association President H. Kendall Kelley
Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

"As a judge, it has been my privilege to have served in a very large number of competitions and tests in many places in the United States, Canada and Europe, to have met several 'generations' of skaters and to have formed many friendships with skaters and judges of all levels. The most gratifying and rewarding part of it all is the satisfaction one gets when one feels that he has been partly responsible in helping someone else become a better judge and accordingly being appointed or promoted." - "Skating" magazine, June 1971

The son of Florence (Kendall) and Hermon Alfred Kelley, Hayward Kendall 'Ken' Kelley was born August 24, 1897 in Cleveland, Ohio. He grew up on Euclid Avenue with his parents, older siblings Virginia and Alfred and grandfather. The well-off Kelley's had a maid, cook, two nurses and a footman in their employ. 

Hermon Alfred Kelley
Ken's father Hermon Alfred Kelley

Ken's father was a successful lawyer who came from a long line of successful land developers. Ken's mother's grandparents were members of the famous Hutchinson Family Singers from New Hampshire, perhaps the most popular American entertainers of the 1840's.

The Kelley home on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland 

Six foot tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Ken began studying mechanical engineering at Cornell University in 1917. He excelled at squash, tennis, swimming, golf and diving and his prowess on the University's rowing team earned him the nickname 'Tank'. His strength was put to the test not long after he enrolled there, when America entered The Great War. He answered the call of duty, attending Officer Candidate School at Camp Taylor and serving overseas a Second Lieutenant in the United States Field Artillery. He graduated from Cornell in 1921, then went on to Harvard Business School, where he earned his Masters in Business Administration. In 1924, he married his wife Olga Johanna 'Joan' Ohlund in Massachusetts. The couple settled in Cleveland, where he put his degrees to good use with a decades-long career in the investment community, first working with the First Cleveland Corp., then with Ball-Burge & Krause and Goodbody & Co.

United States Figure Skating Association President H. Kendall Kelley

Like many couples throughout America just after The Great Depression, Ken and Joan turned to social ice dancing as a hobby. A Waltz around the rink, they thought, was just the thing to lift their spirits. Ken became entranced by the sport and soon memorized the USFSA's rulebook. In 1937, the newly-formed Cleveland Skating Club was asked to host the Midwestern Championships. In "Skating" magazine in 1971, Ken recalled, "The President assigned the job of managing the event to me, not because I knew anything about it, but because he said that running a skating competition would be somewhat like running a military operation, and as a Reserve Officer I should be able to figure it out myself. He asked that six club members be appointed 'Sectional Judges', sight unseen. Three of these lost interest in judging after our first competition. The other three - Henry Beatty, Lou Cody and myself - continued our interest and became International or World Judges. In 1939, the idea occurred to Henry Beatty and me that we might get some good judging education by watching the actual skating of a North American Championship. Accordingly, we journeyed to Toronto, presented ourselves at the old Granite Club, and asked permission to go out on the ice with the official judges to inspect the figures. Though secretly appalled by this unprecedented request, the Canadian officials courteously granted permission, asking only that we should not get in the judges' way. Thus we got a close view of the figures skated by Bud Wilson, Ralph McCreath, Robin Lee, Ollie Haupt and other leaders. It was the best 'schooling' I ever got. It was not until twenty-five years later that the practice of trial judges on the ice during an actual competition was finally adopted."

Walter S. Powell, Margaretta Spence Drake, Harry N. Keighley, Mary Louise Wright and Ken Kelley
Walter S. Powell, Margaretta Spence Drake, Harry N. Keighley, Mary Louise Wright and Ken Kelley. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Ken was appointed as a National Judge in 1940 and served on the USFSA's Finance Committee during World War II, but was pulled away from his duties to skating when he answered the call of duty once again, working with the Ordnance Department in Philadelphia. While there, he skated at the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society. He retired from the military as a Lieutenant Colonel and served as the USFSA's treasurer from 1945 to 1948. In the years that followed, he chaired or served on the Association's Dance, Amateur Status, Skating Standards and Competitions Committees. He was an avid collector of skating pins and patches, and many of these are now in the collections of the World Figure Skating Museum in Colorado Springs.

United States Figure Skating Association President H. Kendall Kelley
Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

In 1952, Ken was elected President of the USFSA, a position he held until 1955. During this period, he also judged at numerous U.S. and North American Championships, the 1952 U.S. Olympic Trials and the 1956 Winter Olympic Games and World Championships. His judging career wasn't without its controversies. At the Cortina d'Ampezzo Games, he was the only judge to place Carol Heiss first when Tenley Albright became America's first Olympic Gold Medallist in women's figure skating. At the Worlds in Garmisch-Partenkirchen that same year, he was the only judge to put Americans Carmel and Ed Bodel in the top three. They finished sixth.

United States Figure Skating Association President H. Kendall Kelley

Perhaps Ken's greatest contribution to figure skating was his work in organizing and standardizing judging schools in the fifties and sixties, in particular ensuring attention was paid to a 'neglected discipline' - pairs skating. Ken recalled, "After the War, most judging schools were conducted at summer skating centers, and pros were used extensively as instructors. These meetings were not as effective as they might have been for several reasons. First, only two or three days were used to cover the entire range of figures, dancing and pair skating from the lowest to the highest, affording only slight or sketchy detail on any part. Second, each of the pros had his own very definite ideas and methods, and though the pros were experienced and knowledgeable, their ideas were often contradictory and controversial. Third, students were recruited by advertising, and the schools were open to anyone at the summer center who would pay the price of admission, regardless of age, skating experience or reason for attending. Some were actual judges or prospective judges or parents who wanted to learn the 'secrets' of judging, young skaters who sought to find out what judges are looking for or idle summer vacationers who came out of the hot sun to see some skating. Fourth, all schools were different; each faculty laboured long and hard to set up a curriculum, and some emphasis was usually given to getting something new and different at each one. Often discussion groups were held with the purpose of developing suggestions for improving existing rules: disappointment and confusion resulted in cases where the suggested rule changes were not adopted. These so-called schools were sometimes called 'Minstrel Shows': an Endman and some judges on the stage performing for an oddly assorted audience... At the time when all judging committees were consolidated into one combined committee, my idea of the JETS (Judges' Education and Training Section) was developed. Where all previous judging schools had been undertaken by clubs or inter-club associations at their own financial risk, it was decided that the Association, through the JETS, would organize and conduct some schools itself, assuming the full financial risk of loss or profit. The first of these was the very successful school held on Long Island in March, 1969, in cooperation with the New York Regional Council of Figure Skating Clubs."

Ken made several other important contributions to figure skating in the sixties as well. He put together the book "Ice Dances: Figures & Exercises", which featured several innovative new dances that weren't part of the USFSA's dance test structure and offered technical advice on existing dances. He served first as a substitute member of the ISU's Ice Dance Technical Committee, then as a 'full' member, replacing Harold Hartshorne who had been killed in the Sabena Crash.

Harry N. Keighley, Katherine Miller Sackett, Walter S. Powell, Margaretta Spence Drake, Mary Louise Wright and Ken Kelley
Harry N. Keighley, Katherine Miller Sackett, Walter S. Powell, Margaretta Spence Drake, Mary Louise Wright and Ken Kelley. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Ken was one of many people who almost ended up on that plane in 1961. As the chairman of the USFSA's International Committee and American liaison to the Championships in Prague, he had travelled to Europe on Sabena Flight 548 the Monday before the group with his wife and the President of The Skating Club of Boston. After the tragedy, he was one of the people designated with the heart-wrenching task of identifying the bodies of the victims. He wrote to F. Ritter Shumway, "I took a number of pictures of the shocking and fearful scene. This was not with a ghoulish intent - in fact, I wish I could forget the scene but I fear I never will."

United States Figure Skating Association President H. Kendall Kelley

Ken passed away on October 29, 1980 at the age of eighty-three and was remembered at the time of his death for his contributions to the Cleveland Museum Of Art, having served as trustee and President of the Horace Kelley Art Foundation from 1941 until his death. It's high time that his contributions to advancing the art of skating through improving the standards of judging are equally recognized.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.