Syracuse University Magazine

DSC_5158.jpgWilliam Mellen ’15 and his grandmother, Sarah “Sally” O’Byrne Kelley ’47 trace their family’s SU connection back to Paul Kelley, a 1913 College of Law graduate (see photo below).

A Family's Century-Long Connection

In 1913, SU became the first institution in the country to establish a photography department, the SU men’s basketball team went 12-0, and an outbreak of smallpox forced three residence halls on campus to be quarantined. It was also the year the first member of the Kelley family earned an SU degree. Paul W. Kelley (1892-1964) graduated from the College of Law, and, since then, more than 20 family members have followed in his footsteps.

Upon graduation, Paul received several job offers from prestigious Syracuse law firms, but he chose to help his father and uncles run the family business, a small general store established in 1886 that had become Kelley Brothers Coal Company in 1908. The company delivered coal by horse-drawn wagon and continued to grow, eventually becoming an industrial hardware business that now has stores in a dozen states.

Sarah “Sally” O’Byrne Kelley ’47, Paul’s daughter-in-law, spoke about the 104-year history of family members attending Syracuse University. “Through every decade—the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s—to the present day, members of the Kelley family have attended Syracuse University,” she says. “Paul’s cousins, nieces, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are proud SU alumni.”

Kelley, who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science, says being on campus during World War II was a unique experience. “There weren’t a lot of activities back then, but we had fun,” she says. “When the war ended, and the soldiers enrolled through the GI Bill, the building boom started on South Campus. No one anticipated how much the University would grow. When the soldiers returned from the war, the campus came alive.”

Kelley is a member of Eta Pi Upsilon, the nation’s first undergraduate honor society to recognize women who demonstrated scholarship, leadership, service, and loyalty to SU. She fondly recalls the society’s dances and curfews. “Freshmen had to be back in the dormitories by 8 p.m.,” she says. “Sophomores could stay out until 9 p.m. and so forth.”

Kelley remains active in the Eta Pi Upsilon Society and looks forward to attending the Commencement ceremony of her grandson, William Mellen ’15, in two years—68 years after her own graduation. Mellen is a classical civilization major with a minor in anthropology through the College of Arts and Sciences. “I started at Herkimer Community College after I graduated from high school, but my life took a different path,” he says. “I knew if I went back to school, it would be to study something I love: archaeology.” Despite concerns about college costs, Mellen knew of SU’s great reputation, so he made an appointment at University College to discuss his options with an advisor. “Growing up, I walked around campus, went to the Carrier Dome, and only dreamed of attending Syracuse University,” he says. “I never thought I’d have the opportunity to come here.”

One of Mellen’s most exciting opportunities came through the SU Abroad program. Last year, he participated in the program’s summer session at the Florence campus, learning about art from the Middle Ages and Renaissance and doing an ethnographic study of Italy and the Italians. This summer, he went to an archaeological field school located between Florence and Sienna to assist in excavating a Roman and Etruscan settlement. “SU has opened up avenues for me that I wouldn’t have thought possible,” he says.

From the era of horse and buggy, through two world wars, to traveling the globe and learning about history, culture, and art, Syracuse University’s legacy of providing an exceptional education to its students remains steadfast. And the Kelley family is a living testament to that tradition.     —Eileen Jevis


Paul Kelley (top row, third from left) was a member of the Delta Chi law fraternity. His younger brother George (middle row, third from left) was also a member.

Photo from 1914 Onondagan/courtesy of SU Archives