Longtime builder, honored public servant by the Township of Lincoln | Stevenville
STEVENSVILLE — Jerry Kelly’s time with a hammer and a nail is felt throughout Lincoln Township.
Born in Benton Harbor, Kelly has dedicated his life to adding buildings to Southwest Michigan in one way or another. For 27 years, he served on the Lincoln Township Zoning Appeal Board and Zoning Review Board, which he oversaw as chairman for 20 of those years.
However, the 76-year-old stepped back from those dual roles at the end of 2020 following a freak accident. When it became clear he would not return to either council, Lincoln Township officials presented Kelly with a plaque in April to recognize his years of service to the municipality.
He is considered one of the few in the building community, with a knack for knowing the quality of construction and maintenance of most homes in the township.
“They’re really going to miss his knowledge of the area,” said Cindy Link, Kelly’s daughter. “He was the guy that people would look for to find out who built what. He would know the builders personally and know who is doing a good job.
In addition to being a builder, Kelly was a realtor and helped develop eight housing estates with his business partners Loren Gurber and Phil Medo.
“He and his father built houses in several subdivisions here,” Gurber said. “He’s been in construction for most of his life. He was a great guy to work with. I couldn’t ask for a better business partner.
No time to waste
Kelly began her career in college, working for her father at his company in St. Joseph, which was called Kelly Construction and Sons.
According to Link, Kelly was working all the time.
“If we went to see him, we went to the construction site and they put us to work,” she recalls. “Put in the trash. Dig holes in the back. Help stain the moldings, pick up the nails, screw in the floors. I just remember working.
When Link’s grandfather shut down the construction company in 1982, his father went to work at the Cook Nuclear Generating Station for 13 years.
Kelly’s wife had a broker’s license and worked for Phil Medo, which led to Medo and Kelly’s early discussions about creating a housing estate.
“He wasn’t actively involved in construction or development, until they started their first subdivision called Kelly’s Medo,” Link said. “He liked the development. He was very good at imagining a property and how to develop it.
Medo, who is now the owner and broker of Core Real Estate in Stevensville, said he has known Kelly for about 40 years now.
As part of the venture known as MEDA III Investments, Kelly joined Gurber and Medo to develop eight subdivisions which produced 175 lots with a house on each plot.
These subdivisions included Marquette Estates, Hickory Woods, Hidden Pines, Marquette Place, Wood Creek Estates, Arrowhead Point, Wood Creek Estates No. 2 and Marquette Estates No 2. The duo of Kelly and Medo would go on to create another couple of subdivisions, including including Shoreham Condominiums.
“Jerry was instrumental in over 200 homes in Lincoln Township,” Gurber said.
Medo said his work with Kelly began with discussions about the need for available homes.
These early talks led them to build speculative houses in their own housing estates.
“It was nice to have his own product to sell. Jerry would orchestrate a lot of the work and be the house contractor,” Medo said. “It created a pretty good machine.”
The development that was particularly fun for Medo was when they worked on Shoreham Condominiums.
“It was a good area and very popular and sold out pretty quickly. Most of them were sold before they were finished,” Medo said. “Back then, we never had time to quit – the banks got nervous if we stopped working. I think we complimented each other. It’s really hard to get a good partnership because it’s a very stressful business.
“It’s a miracle”
Kelly’s last meeting with the review board was in September 2020, shortly before her downfall.
Link said his dad was getting rid of the furniture in an attempt to clean up the place. Kelly was moving a chest of drawers upstairs, when she pulled away from him and he fell, causing the chest of drawers to hit his head against one of the doors.
The dresser broke his eye socket, pushed his jaw forward and caused him multiple skull fractures.
“It was a brain injury and it takes a long time to see the long-term effects,” Link said.
Based on his CT scans, Link said doctors couldn’t say how he was still alive.
“They say it’s a miracle. Looking at his (CT scans), he shouldn’t be able to function,” she said. “But he still has a purpose here on this Earth. He is doing very well now. Sometimes he can’t find the words. But you can have a two-way conversation, it takes a lot of it.
Traumatic injuries prevented Kelly from doing his job, so he chose to resign from his position on both township boards.
“He really thrived knowing what was going on in the community,” Link said. “It’s hard to know he’s going to miss that. He is recovering, trying to find his new path in this life. He’s still a bit lost, but he’s getting there.