Parkite Tom Kelly to be inducted into U.S. Ski Hall of Fame
September 28, 2018
The Roland Palmedo Library at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum in Ishpeming, Michigan, is one of Tom Kelly's favorite places. So it was special for him to find out while perusing the books there that he had been selected for induction into the Ski Hall of Fame.
The collection of ski documents and books there offer glimpses into a world that Kelly has inhabited nearly his whole life — after all, Kelly, chair of the museum, has been involved in the sport for nearly five decades, and spent the last three as the head of public relations for U.S. Ski and Snowboard.
Recently, as he leafed through documents on the Winter War — the impetus for America's famed 10th mountain division — Kelly was approached by Justin Koski, executive director of the museum, with the results from the 2019 Ski Hall of Fame induction vote.
Kelly knew he was in the running, and had stayed away from the process as a way to recuse himself. But there was nothing left to do but discuss the results before they were ratified the following day, so Kelly and Koski opened the ledger.
They saw celebrated skier Bode Miller on the list — no surprise his voter approval was off the charts, considering his accolades and stardom. Then Koski flipped the page, and there was Kelly's name — one of five non-athletes who made the ballot from 45 recommendations.
Koski didn't say a word; he just let Kelly look at it, and a long, silent pause followed.
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"So I made it, eh?" Kelly finally said.
"You made it with flying colors," Koski replied.
In that moment, Kelly said he reflected on what it meant to be inducted, and to be part of 2019's class in particular.
There was Kristen Ulmer, a Salt Lake native and the first woman to ski the Grand Teton; two-time Olympic alpine medalist Andrew Weibrecht; Tom Sims, a founding father of snowboarding; resort manager and mogul Bill Jensen; legendary skier, soldier and coach Don Henderson; and Hilary Engisch-Klein, who has 35 women's moguls World Cup victories; and Miller, a four-time alpine world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist.
"Its particularly meaningful to be in a class like this," Kelly said, noting the stars he would be mentioned alongside.
Then, of course, there's Kelly himself.
In the 1960s, Kelly, a teenager at the time, started taking photos of the U.S. Ski Team at the ski jump in Middleton, Wisconsin. He then worked with several newspapers around Wisconsin before taking a job as the public relations agent for Telemark Ski Area in Bayfield County, Wisconsin. Kelly spent a few years running a Nordic travel company, after which he joined the U.S. Ski Association as the assistant national Nordic Director in 1986, and transitioned to head of public relations in 1988 – a position he held until June of 2018. Over that time Kelly has been in the finish area for 75 U.S. Olympic medal performances.
Koski said Kelly's long involvement with the sport was "vital" to his nomination to the Ski Hall of Fame, and part of what made him so appealing to the 285 ski industry professionals who comprised the active voting board.
"He's definitely an ambassador for the sport of skiing," Koski said. "The tie with the ski team and being behind the medals and doing some of the stuff that he's done, he's really quite unique to our industry. He's one of a kind."
Over the years, Kelly has become something of a de-facto historian, a role Kelly sees as increasingly important in the digital age. While some results are easily tracked online, he said there are few hard copies left of other important documents, and some of it is falling between the cracks.
"If you want to find information from the past 15 years, good luck," he said. "It's kind of on someone's hard drive somewhere or it got deleted, and this is a concern that I have as a historian, that we're moving into a period when the documentation of history is not as strong as it was."
Kelly has goals that involve better record-keeping among U.S. teams, and clarifying the results of some early World Cup competitions that were not recorded by skiing's governing body.
On April 6, 2019, Kelly will be inducted to the Ski Hall of Fame, with a ceremony in Salt Lake City, where he will be entered into the records he has been tending for the better part of his life.
Even that day won't be about him, though, he said.
"If this gives me one more platform to talk about Bode Miller or Kristen Ulmer or Andrew Weibrecht, I will use it to talk about them," he said. "Even though I've left U.S. Ski and Snowboard, I'm out telling stories."
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