The eight siblings of the Kelly family are planning to renew their vows with their spouses in a ceremony on Sept. 14 at Deep Springs Missionary Baptist Church near Dryden. Photos courtesy Carl Kelly / Illustration by David Grace.
DRYDEN — A ceremony to renew marriage vows isn’t all that unusual, but soars deep into the wow zone when multiplied by a factor of eight.
All eight siblings of a family with roots in Lee County will renew their vows with their spouses in a single ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 14, at Deep Springs Missionary Baptist Church near Dryden. The sons and daughters of the late Andrew and Grace Kelly now range in age from 75 to 62. Three of the siblings were wed in the Deep Springs chapel, all attended church there while growing up, and all are married to their original spouses.
The siblings are far-flung, from South Carolina to Louisiana to Arizona, but are reuniting in vow and deed at the place of their births and growing-up years in the Poor Valley section of Lee County.
The eldest of the Kelly children, Carl Kelly of Greenville, S.C., is now 75. He said his wife of 54 years, Sue, “dreamed up” the notion of a renewal of marriage vows after she was diagnosed with cancer, and that was fine and dandy by him.
Then Sue’s notion snowballed into a true dream ceremony.
“Anyway, she called my sister, Rachel Orr in Tucson (Ariz.) and mentioned it to her, and they both just jumped on it and started this wild planning thing and put it all together about two months ago,” he said. “Everybody else agreed they would come too. We’ve got a lot of support from neighbors and people in the church. They think it’s just the greatest idea in the world.”
The three couples wed at the Deep Springs church include Carl and Sue, Rachel and Wayne Orr, and Sam and Eva Kelly.
Andrew Kelly was a coal miner who also farmed the Poor Valley homeplace, long since passed into other ownership. Carl said his father raised corn, cattle, tobacco and vegetables, and with eight kids, had a right decent stable of farmhands to help out.
“We worked in the fields alright. Me, being the oldest boy, I worked a lot. But we all worked, let’s put it that way,” he said.
Carl has lived in Greenville, S.C., with a career as a mechanical engineer until he retired from Michelin Tire Co. in 2003.
“Back when we grew up and graduated, that’s when the first big decline in the coal industry happened in that part of the country. So you knew to make a living you had to leave that part of the country,” he said.
Besides Carl and Sue renewing their vows, the seven other sibling couples include Barbara Kelly Qualls and her husband of 57 years, Claude Qualls, of Shreveport, La.; Harold Kelly and his wife of 50 years, Anna Vinson Kelly of Miamisburg, Ohio; Rachel Kelly Orr and her husband of 49 years, Wayne Orr, of Tucson, Ariz.; Ruby Kelly Ping and her husband of 48 years, Bobby Ping, of Indianapolis, Ind.; Sam Kelly and his wife of 45 years, Eva Burchell Kelly, of Mason, Ohio; Judy Kelly Clemons and her husband of 40 years, Jess Clemons, of Greenfield, Ind.; and Roger Kelly and his wife of 40 years, Charmaine Stafford Kelly, of Greenfield, Ind.
That’s a total of 383 years of faithful wedded bliss for the eight Kelly couples, and counting. The eight couples have a total of 12 children and 15 grandchildren.
“It’s just that we are all a Christian family, and our Christian principles include a strong belief in marriage, so it’s just a statement, I guess, we’re making,” Carl said. “There will be a pretty big family representation there, both family and friends. We attended that church, and there are still some people there who know us. And we’ve got some friends coming from South Carolina just for the occasion.”
Home was calling them home, said his wife.
“Three of the older ones got married there, so we felt that was the place for us to be,” Sue said.
Deep Springs Missionary Baptist Church pastor Rev. Rick Phillips will introduce the couples to begin the ceremony. The Rev. Darryl Blair of Johnson City will lead the renewal of vows. Phillips is the son of one of Sue’s school classmates, and Blair is an old friend of Carl’s, the pair having graduated from Dryden High School together.
Blair has been a pastor since he was 35, but never presided over a renewal of vows, or a full blown wedding for that matter, quite like this one.
“When Carl called and asked, I considered it an honor and a privilege because it’s doing something for a longtime friend and because it’s such an unusual event,” Blair said.
“Oh no, I’ve never heard of it, or anything even close. It’s so unusual because, well, it’s not only eight brothers and sisters, which is unusual enough, but also the length of marriages for all of them. It amounts to over 300 years of marriage and I can appreciate that, because my marriage is 54 (years).”