KEYSER – In 1999, when the Grand Central Business Center officially opened at the former Keyser High School, one of the speakers proposed a piece of the grounds be set aside for a proper memorial to KHS graduate Jonah Edward Kelley.
Kelley, who served his country during World War II and died while fighting to keep his men safe during heavy gunfire in Kesternich, Germany, was posthumously awarded the Medial of Honor and is remembered every year with the Keyser High School’s Jonah Edward Kelley Award.
Speaker Eugene Newhouse, however, saw the opportunity to use the former high school grounds to set up a memorial to Kelley that could be visited daily. Boy Scout Steven Warner, who was present for Newhouse’s speech that day, took up the mantle and made the memorial his Eagle Scout project.
He solicited the help of Don Heare of Boyce-Houser American Legion Post 41, and the Ed Kelley Memorial Plaza became a reality on a small piece of land along the edge of the former high school campus bordering Piedmont Street.
Since that time the plaza placards, which tell the story of Kelley and World War II, have been replaced once, and after the former high school was taken over by First United Bank & Trust, the City of Keyser agreed to take over the .11 acre memorial, keeping the grass cut and the weeds trimmed.
Today a private business man has purchased the former high school, but the Ed Kelley Plaza remains under the care of the city and Boyce-Houser Post 41.
As with many outdoor memorials, however, the placards and bricks are showing deterioration and the current members of Post 41 feel it is time to upgrade the site.
“We had a couple of ideas, then Tom Prits, who is an architect, came up with a design,” post member Frank Roleff told the News Tribune.
According to Roleff, the upgraded memorial was designed to maximize the use of space and minimize any areas in between where unsightly weeds can grow.
“Everything would be pretty much solid, and except for the occasional cleaning, would be maintenance free,” he said.
The current design includes columns of bricks engraved with names, with the placards placed on poles in between. The new design would tighten that up quite a bit.
“We decided to take all the bricks that are down there now and move them into the center, and create spaces on both sides for new bricks,” Roleff said.
A background wall would be constructed, which would include the name “Jonah Edward Kelley Plaza,” and the blue and white star would remain.
The placards would be printed on more durable, weather-resistant material and placed on panels on either side of the memorial.
There are currently 313 engraved bricks, and the post has sold an additional 62.
While the bricks – engraved or not – will be placed in the memorial during the upgrade, any that are unsold at the time of the renovation can be engraved where they are.
In addition, with the now 55-foot wide memorial to only occupy 30 feet due to the removal of the unused spaces, that also leaves room to add bricks when they are sold.
“We set the date of the last day of June for the last day to buy a brick,” Roleff said, adding that each brick is $125. $100 of that goes toward the cost of the upgrade and $25 goes to Tri-State Memorial for the engraving.
The bricks may have up to three lines of 15 characters each, including spaces and punctuation.
In addition, the post has applied for a grant to assist with the project, and has also received a large donation from the Loyal Order of the Moose.
Roleff and post member Kelly Kelley, who is also working on the project, hope that work on the wall can begin as early as June.
To purchase a brick, or make a donation toward the project, interested persons may call 304-788-6629 or mail the donation to Kelley Memorial, American Legion Post 41, 66 S. Main St., Keyser WV 26726.
This article originally appeared on Mineral Daily News-Tribune: Kelley Memorial to get upgrade; brick sale will help finance project