Friends and family reflect on Mary Kelley’s life, impact: ‘She was just a light’
Seated around Randy Kelley’s kitchen table in Steamboat Springs last week, friends and family comforted one another as they recalled the life of the Mary Kelley, who brought them so much joy and happiness.
“She was just a light,” said Randy, who married Mary more than 34 years ago. “The thing about Mary is she’s super practical and always thinking about others.”
Randy was joined at the table by family friend Marilyn McCaulley, Mary’s sister Christy Parsons and her husband Kim. They had gathered to support each other and share their stories of Mary, who died March 24 while rafting the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park.
Mary’s loved ones remember the 63-year-old woman as authentic, honest and kind with a quick-witted sense of humor that could make almost anyone smile after a full day of hard work. She loved to read, garden, bake and care for Randy and their boys, Ryan and David.
“She was happy, cheerful and kind,” Parsons said. “She really was generous and practical. She was just the kind of person you wanted to have around.”
Since moving to Steamboat Springs in 1980, Mary made an impression, along with a long list of close friends. She held jobs at Remmington’s in the Sheraton, as a night baker, in the ticket office at Steamboat Resort and as the lunch lady at Soda Creek and Strawberry Park schools. Most recently, she worked for Colorado Mountain College until she retired with the arrival of COVID-19.
“She touched a lot of lives,” Randy said. “She created a home for myself and the boys — and her friends, she always took care of her friends.”
Mary was the youngest in a family of five brothers and sisters, who spent most of their childhood in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The family moved to Tacoma, Washington, for a brief time when her father, Walter Spidahl, was working as a salesman for Northland Skis. However, the family ended up back in Fergus Falls a short time later.
“There were four of us in a row, and then when my mom was pregnant with the fourth one, she got polio,” Parsons recalled. “The vaccine had just come out. She had my brother Oscar, and then they put her in an iron lung and took her to Minneapolis. She was gone for six months.”
Four years later, the family grew again when Mary, whom Parsons calls “the miracle baby,” arrived on June 6, 1958. Despite the advice of doctors who feared for her mother’s safety in delivery, Liz Spidahl gave birth to her fifth child.
Mary enjoyed her childhood growing up alongside John, Christy, David and Oscar. The children would lend a hand in their father’s concessionaire business, working a number of events each year, including the Minnesota State Fair.
Mary was active and became an accomplished skater and a member of one of the first girls hockey teams in Minnesota. She graduated from Ferguson Falls High School in 1976. She briefly lived in Bellingham, Washington, where she worked at the Crystal Mountain before eventually landing in Steamboat Springs in 1980.
Randy and Mary met shortly after she arrived, but their romance took a few years to develop because Randy was married at the time and Mary had a boyfriend. It wasn’t until after Randy’s previous marriage had ended that he took notice of the young woman from Fergus Falls at a broom hockey game.
“She was super cute and fun,” Randy said. “That was the first time I really started to think about asking her out.”
The two didn’t actually get together until they bumped into one another outside the Unique Shop in downtown Steamboat Springs.
“I came out of the health food store and she came out of the Unique Shop with a tea pot,” Randy recalled.
The two talked and Mary asked Randy if he wanted to come to dinner at Wayne and Linda Kakela’s barn, where Mary was living.
At the time, Randy was planning on going to Boulder, but when the invitation turned into an opportunity to steal Mary’s heart, his plans quickly changed. In 1987, the couple married and started building a life together. Randy still has the tea pot Mary bought that day.
That life included a home in the Riverside neighborhood, Randy’s music career and lots and lots of friends. Mary was a perfect fit for Steamboat. She loved to camp, get outdoors, watch the birds and share adventures on the river.
Mary’s first overnight river trip came when Randy, who had worked as a river guide in Grand Junction, was invited by the Friends of the Yampa on a river trip with activist Katie Lee. He invited Mary to join him on the trip down the San Juan River in 1983.
“Ever since then, it was river trips our whole life,” Randy said. “It was our passion. We really loved getting out on the river and just being in these beautiful spots. We knew that there was risk, but we were doing something we love doing.”
The past few years, the couple enjoyed adventures to Spain with Christy and Kim and then to Guatemala.
“Mary was acutely aware of nature and her surroundings. She would notice and point out things that no one else saw, especially birds and birds songs,” McCaulley said. “In any setting in or out of her home — camping, hut trips, traveling — she was the ultimate hostess and caregiver to everybody. She created a mood with scarves and candles and lighting to make every event memorable and special.”
Annette Seiler and Mary were friends for 33 years.
“When we got together, whatever length of time there would have been between, it was just like we had gotten together yesterday,” Seiler said. “It never got old and she was such an integrated part of the fabric of my life all these years that I just cannot fathom that is not going to be the case in the future. It’s just so hard to grasp.”
The two had their children at about the same time, and the families grew up together. When Ryan and David turned 16, they traveled overseas with Seiler to Denmark.
“That Mary would trust me to bring her children to Europe and take that responsibility was just a relationship that was full of trust,” Seiler said.
Seiler, who owns Dreamboat Chef Services, would often bring her friend on board to help when needed.
“I couldn’t imagine having a more helpful person with me on the job,” Seiler said. “She was such a serving soul, and she was so good at anticipating other people’s needs. So when we went out on a job together, it was just such smooth sailing.”
Seiler said that, whether it was her or a client, Mary could anticipate people’s needs and in most cases had already done what needed to be done before it became an issue. Seiler remembered packing for a camping trip and being worried that she might have forgotten something.
“’Don’t worry about it, Annette. It’s amazing what you can do without,’” Seiler remembered her friend telling her. “I’ve always had that in my mind since then, and now that she is gone, I’m just wondering, can I do without her?”
Services for Mary Kelley will be 4-8 p.m. April 23 at Olympian Hall inside the Howelsen Hill Lodge.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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