COLLINGDALE — July 4th celebrations were bittersweet Thursday as the borough honored not only the founding of this country, but also the life’s work of one man whose name has become synonymous with Collingdale: Mayor Frank C. Kelly.
“Collingdale was his life and his life’s work was to serve its people,” said borough Manager John Hewlings during a ceremony at Collingdale Park naming the park’s pavilion the Frank C. Kelly Pavilion. “He was always straight and to the point with everyone. Sometimes you liked what he had to say and sometimes you didn’t, but Frank always had what was best for the Borough of Collingdale in his mind and in his actions.”
“One of his greatest accomplishments was getting this park, the funding for it,” said son-in-law Jim Gonzoph, surrounded by friends and family under the cooling shade of the newly renamed pavilion. “He loved being down here.”
Kelly died in November at the age of 84, just a few months shy of completing his 12th consecutive four-year term as borough mayor. He was the longest serving active mayor in the state’s history and left a legacy apparent to anyone attending Thursday’s festivities.
“It makes it a lot easier to know how much people cared for him, cared about him,” said Kelly’s daughter, Colleen Gonzoph.
“Frank had this town in his blood,” said her husband. “I’ve never seen that in anybody else and this now is respect for that. This is the reverence he deserves after 50-plus years of community service.”
Kelly, a lifelong borough resident, was appointed to represent Collingdale on the Darby Creek Joint Sewer Authority in 1966 and was appointed to borough council later that same year. He handily won the election for mayor in 1969, a position he maintained until his death. Over those 50 years, Hewlings said he oversaw six different police chiefs, five borough managers, three highway supervisors and countless borough council members.
“The one constant was Frank Kelly was mayor,” said Hewlings. “Frank was once asked what motivated him to keep coming back as mayor of Collingdale. His reply was, ‘I’ve been here all my life, I know everybody in town and I like helping people.’”
“There’s nothing worse than a politician who thinks he is better than the people who elected him,” Kelly said in a 2015 profile for the Daily Times. “You have to treat people the way you’d want to be treated, and you can’t look down on anybody. I think it helps that I worked for a living and put in my 40 hours like everyone else.”
Kelly was a 1953 graduate of Collingdale High School and afterward served two years in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He also put in 41 years at PECO, first as a lineman and later as a supervisor. Following his retirement, Kelly spent another 15 years working at the Delaware River Port Authority, as well as two years as a Republican State Committeeman.
A member of the State Association of Mayors, State Association of Boroughs, Delaware County Republican Association and an Honorary Life Member of Collingdale Fire Company #1, Kelly also served as an usher at St. Joseph’s Church of Collingdale, where his son Patrick serves as deacon.
“My father loved every member of Collingdale, every person he worked with, and he always tried to make their lives better,” said Patrick Kelly, who also delivered the benediction Thursday. “It’s so great to see that by naming this pavilion after him and all the things that everyone has said about him today that you all loved him back.”
Kelly fathered seven children with his wife of 61 years, Janet Kelly, who died in January 2018. He was also the proud grandfather of 17 and great-grandfather of 15.
State Rep. Dave Delloso, D-162 of Ridley – who is related to Kelly through marriage – said during a reading of a state House proclamation in honor of his service that he was sure of three things whenever he saw “Butch” Kelly: That he was going to get a laugh, that there would be some over-the-top tale of a grandchild’s athletic accomplishment and that Delloso would be a little bit better of a person for having known him.
“Mayor Kelly strove to bring joy and happiness to all his many friends and family members,” said succeeding Mayor Joseph Ciavarelli during a reading of a Senate proclamation from state Sen. Anthony Williams, D-8, of Philadelphia. “He will be fondly remembered as a caring and giving person, and his memory will live on in the minds of numerous people whose lives he has touched.”
“Every day – and there were roughly 17,885 of them – he brought the same level of passion and commitment to this borough and its residents,” said daughter Kristine Olley. “What an example of public service, as evidenced by the honors over these passing months, which were more than deserved, but earned through hard work, sacrifice, patience and loyalty, all qualities that make us so proud and make for a historical political run as mayor.”
Olley said that to honor her father is also to honor her mother, who exhibited those same qualities (especially “lots of patience”) in helping Kelly be so successful.
“We are biased, but there was no better wife of mother,” said Olley. “We are so pleased that the fireworks are returning to the borough tonight. We imagine the view of them from heaven will be spectacular.”
Thursday’s celebrations also featured an 8:45 a.m. “wake-up motorcycle roll” courtesy of several local clubs, a community cookout, live music, activities and characters for children, and a parade led by Honorary Parade Marshall Joseph Passaretti, a 100-year-old World War II veteran who took part in five invasions in Europe and Africa as an artillery specialist handling 105 mm howitzer cannons.