Tim and Debbie Kelley. photo by Chris Gustin
~by Bob Gustin
It didn’t take long for Tim and Debbie Kelley to find a spot for themselves in Brown County and begin making a difference in the community.
Since moving to Van Buren Township about three years ago, they have become active in the community, giving time, money, and energy for causes in which they believe. Many of those efforts are focused on improving the lives of children.
“They’re very refreshing to our community because of their tireless efforts to try to improve things,” said Larry Voris, vice chairman of the YMCA board of directors. “They have a passion for helping people.”
Both Tim and Debbie are involved in the local Y, Debbie as the board chairwoman, and Tim as a member of the grounds and maintenance committee.
In addition to her work with the YMCA, Debbie is a board member and head of fundraising for the Brown County Weekend Backpacks, which provides food for local children. She’s also a tutor for the Brown County Literacy Coalition and on the finance committee of the Brown County Community Foundation.
While living in Philadelphia, Debbie became involved with the nonprofit “Darkness to Light” program, which focuses on child sexual abuse. She now provides workshops to Brown County groups, including the Literacy Coalition.
Jan Swigert, head of the backpack program, said Debbie led two recent successful fundraising projects, the Touch-A-Truck event this summer, and a silent auction at the Mellencougar concert at the Brown County Playhouse. “She’s just a very giving person and feels the very definite need to help others. She’s a very smart lady,” Swigert said.
Tim became involved in the local Y through Debbie’s work, and also heads up the local Rotary Club’s international efforts. He is a member of the advisory board for Brown County High School’s Eagle Manufacturing program, which trains high school students in technology and business.
Both Tim and Debbie grew up in Frankfort, Indiana.
Determined to go to college after graduation, Debbie worked her way through five universities and two community colleges over a 10-year period, including Indiana University, Purdue, IUPUI, and Ball State University. She graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit with a degree in business and a major in finance. She worked as a waitress, telemarketer, and as a secretary for the business school at Wayne State. She lived in 36 different locations after relocating for jobs.
“God planted me where I needed to be at a time I needed to be there,” she said.
Throughout her career she has “bounced against” discrimination in the workplace, during a time when it was difficult for women to get ahead in the business world. She continues to battle against people undermining girls’ and women’s worth, and telling them what they can do.
Debbie worked for a small loan company and then was hired full time as a bank examiner for the State of Indiana in 1980.
“I got a perspective on good and bad leadership as I went from bank to bank,” she said.
She worked at a variety of jobs at Comerica Bank in Michigan, at Bank One in Ohio, and General Electric in Pennsylvania.
In 2003, she joined SEI Investment at its Philadelphia headquarters, and finished her career as global marketing director, retiring in 2016.
The Philadelphia Business Journal named her to their “Women of Distinction” list in 2013.
Tim graduated from Frankfort High School in 1977, but says he never enjoyed school until he found the building trades program in his junior year.
He began his own construction company after high school, and worked there for eight years until he had an opportunity to join the Frankfort Water Company. Working in the water company’s service department “taught me understanding,” he said.
“You had to deal with all types of people. I was there for 18 years and ended up a part of some people’s lives,” he said.
He left the water department in 2004 then tested in as a journeyman for the Carpenter’s Union and worked on hospitals, schools, libraries, churches, and other projects.
Voris said Tim has been proactive in maintaining the YMCA building, and is constructive in his thought process with a positive attitude.
“I’ve always tried to be charitable,” Tim said, “but I’ve always felt like I’ve been blessed and I’ve always felt like I had more than I need ,so I’ve always been happy to share my time and talents and money.”
Tim says he joined the local Rotary Club to “pay back for the help they gave me with a water project in Kenya.” He went to a meeting with Debbie in Philadelphia where the topic was the need for water for kids in Kenya.
“I went home and couldn’t sleep,” Tim said. “To think that a child couldn’t get a clean drink of water really resonated with me.”
A friend in Rotary hooked Tim up with a Chicago group in charge of water and sanitation projects, and the Kelleys later went to Kenya to help build a catchment system for a children’s home in Kisimu.
Tim married Dawn Elliott, a close friend of Debbie’s sister Mickie, so they became part of a big extended family. After 25 years of marriage, Dawn died of brain cancer in 2012.
Debbie was newly divorced at the time, and after Dawn’s death, Debbie and Tim became “best friends” and two years later married.
The Kelleys wanted to move back to Indiana to be closer to family, and found a Brown County home with space for a large workshop for Tim and lots of gardening area for Debbie and room for their dog Toby to romp. Here, they continue to find ways to help, whether it’s protecting and releasing Monarch butterflies, feeding the local deer population, helping kids stay safe, or just being good neighbors.