Monday, July 27, 2015

Lake Tahoe and Grandpa George 1911-1981

Grandpa George Kelly, Nick Cimino & Uncle Jack Kelly on the beach at Lake Tahoe.

I have had the great good fortune to spend lots of time at Lake Tahoe over the years.  My grandparents, George and Elaine Kelly moved to South Lake Tahoe in the mid 1960s.  The first house I remember was on Nez Perce Drive.  Grandpa George was a Deputy Registrar and Inspector for the State Contractors Licensing Board before he retired. As I recall he found several of the houses that he owned through his travels as a state inspector.  He was especially fond of uncompleted projects that he could finish as he came from a family of carpenters and was a highly skilled carpenter and contractor himself.

The Cimino Family in the driveway at Gram Elaine and Grandpa George's house at South Lake Tahoe, February 1968. Left to right: Vicky, Nick, Jill, Vince, Faran and Dick Cimino.

Gram Elaine and Grandpa George were members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary and the South Lake Tahoe Yacht Club. They were also former owners of Valhalla before it was sold to the state. In 1989 during a visit to Gram Elaine and Grandpa George at Lake Tahoe, I had an opportunity to sit with Grandpa George and make a tape recorded oral history of his life. He told me many fascinating stories and he had a keen memory for details. This history of his life is based on that tape recording. 

George Kelly was born in Tacoma, WA on the 21st of July 1911. That was the year that Irving Berlin composed Alexander's Ragtime Band. William Howard Taft was President of the United States. Ty Cobb was the biggest name in baseball. It was the first year of the Indianapolis 500 and the first cross country airplane flight was made in a Burgess-Wright biplane from N.Y. to Pasadena, CA in the incredible time of 82 hours and 4 minutes.  A lot happened in George Kelly's 80 years of living. 

George Kelly in the sailor suit about 1918 with his brothers.

George was the youngest child of 10. His father was John Caesar Kelly, born in the Isle of Man and his mother was Annie Marie White born in Bedford, England. George's family moved to Selah, WA, the home of Tree Top apple juice. His dad was a building contractor who constructed big fruit warehouses and other large construction projects. His mother was a housewife who had a full time job caring for their large family. George attended grammar school in Selah for 8 years. He told me that he used to catch a ride on the apple trucks on the way home from school. 

George Kelly about 1929.

In 1925 the Kelly family moved to San Francisco. George used to take the streetcar from his home in the Parkside District to Lick High School in the Potrero district. He graduated from high school in 1929 on the eve of the great depression. He was able to find work during prohibition for Consumers Yeast Company, delivering yeast in a small panel truck. He would deliver about 300 pounds of yeast to a garage in the Marina District. He would meet a guy there who would then take George's panel truck and make George wait for him to come back. He had a pretty good idea that they were bootleggers. 

George held a variety of jobs during the depression years. He was an apprentice carpenter for about 6 months. Then he went to San Jose state college but he never graduated. He had to go to work. He worked at Sears Roebuck as a shipping clerk. After he was married to Elaine Kelly in 1937 he worked for Union Oil Company as a maintenance man and a tanker truck driver. During the war he was a fireman in Sacramento. 

My mother recounted a story to me in September 2001 about her memories of the announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The family was concerned that George would have to enter military service. Jill and Jack were sitting in the back of the car when the announcement came on the radio. The lived on Cavanaugh Way at the time. George and Elaine were talking about whether George would have to go. Jill's parents told her that George would not have to go to war because he was already in uniform as a fireman. Jill decided that she wanted a uniform too so she asked Santa Claus to bring her one. When she opened the package that she thought was her uniform she found a sweater. She was so disappointed that she stopped believing in Santa Claus!

George later went to work for the Contractor's State License Board as an inspector and retired from the Board in South Lake Tahoe as a deputy registrar. George was a home builder. He came by it honestly enough since his dad and his brothers were carpenters and contractors. He built several of his own homes in Sacramento and Lake Tahoe and he was always willing to help others build their homes. On October 24, 1937 he married Elaine Coffman Mayne in Reno. He had an instant family of two daughters, Joan age 6 and Jill, who was 2 years old at the time. Three years later Elaine and George had a son, Jack who was born on February 18, 1940. 

George and Elaine Kelly at their 50th Wedding Anniversary celebration in South Lake Tahoe.

In 1987 George and Elaine celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at South Lake Tahoe. His first love was Elaine and his second love was Lake Tahoe. He had a boat that was a symbol of these two loves. He named it the Elaine B. George and Elaine's first venture at the lake was Kelly's Rainbow Cabin's at King's Beach. They were living in Sacramento at the time when a big snow storm left a heavy load on the roof of the cabins. George was advised to shovel the snow off the roof, by one of his neighbors at King's Beach. He apparently went golfing instead and the roof caved in. 

Kelly's Rainbow Cabins at Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe, California.
The pen and ink drawing was done by Jim Goudge, a California artist who often stayed at the cabins.

His grandchildren have special memories of the times at Valhalla. Trips on the boat to Emerald Bay and swimming in the freezing waters of Lake Tahoe. He was president of the Lake Tahoe Country Club. His home was adorned with his many golf trophies that attested to his skill on the golf course. We held his memorial service in the club house at a golf course in Lake Tahoe which was particularly appropriate considering his love of golf. He was a husband, a father, a golfer, a boater and a dog lover but not necessarily in that order. One friend described him as having a dry sense of humor. He loved to tell jokes and would do most anything to get a laugh. He knew how to have a good time and his wife and daughters said he was an excellent dancer. 

He was loved by his friends and family and he is missed to this day. His niece gave him a plaque to hang on his wall in recognition of his love of golf. The Plaque reads: "When the Great Scorer puts His mark by your name, he will not ask whether you won or lost, but how you played the game". George Kelly, you played the game well!

1 comment:

  1. According to a 1987 recollection of their friend, Stewart Burger, he had been trying to list their home on Cavanaugh Way for sale and George didn't want to sell. Then Stewart received a phone call from George at two in the morning wanting him to sell it quickly because George had just purchased four small cabins at Kings Beach. That was in 1941 and George and Elaine had been married for four years.