At first the question stumped Carl Schlechter. Did he know anything about setting up a memorial scholarship fund or where to start? The question came from Greg Kelly, whose son, Joe, had died in a construction accident in 2016 at age 36. Schlechter, a specialty crops grower, and Joe Kelly had been close friends since age 16 when they first met at the local joint vocational school.
“After the accident, we decided we should do something, that some good should come out of the tragedy,” said Kelly, who lives in Amherst with his wife, Pam, Joe’s stepmother. “I asked around how to do it and most said the best way was to go through some sort of foundation and that’s where I got stuck.”
One of the first phone calls Schlechter made was to Amanda Denes-Diedrick, organization director for Lorain County Farm Bureau. She told Schlechter about the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation, which has scholarships available at both the local and state levels, and he passed the information on to the Kellys. Less than a week later, Denes-Diedrick, Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation Executive Director Chris Baker and foundation board member Mike Nolan were at the Kellys’ house, answering questions — some they hadn’t even thought about.
“A warm and personable approach” is how Pam described the meeting, saying she was particularly touched by Nolan’s description of the scholarship applicant process.
“He spoke from a personal aspect about how rewarding it is to do these scholarships and review applicants’ information and said it helped give you a connection with the family member as well as a future farmer,” Pam said. “That sounded much better than donating to a third party and never hearing from them again.”
The couple put $55,000 in seed money into the Joseph Kelly Memorial Scholarship, which in spring 2020 will begin awarding scholarships to Lorain County students interested in agriculture-related studies.
Both the Kellys and Schlechter said having the scholarship support the agriculture community was a fitting tribute to Joe, who was a Lorain County Farm Bureau member and had dreams of starting his own farm. A tractor ride on a neighbor’s farm in Avon kicked off a lifelong passion for farming, and he worked for Krystowski Farms during middle school and high school. He and his wife, Vanessa, enjoyed teaching their three young children about agriculture.
“Once he became a dad, he wanted to show his kids where their food came from and they had chickens, bunnies and a garden and the kids would go out and help,” Pam said. “Joe was so young and his death was so unexpected that we wanted to do something in his memory, and it’s wonderful that it’s something he had a love for.”
In 2019, Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation will award at least $61,000 in scholarships. To learn more, visit ofbf.org/foundation/scholarships.
Featured Image: Joe and his daughter, Ashlyn.
Photos by Bryan Rinnert