Memorabilia of Cape Cod’s favorite marathoner
A treasure trove of memorabilia from Boston Marathon legend Johnny Kelley is now in the hands of the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), having been donated by the Cape Cod Healthcare Foundation.
Kelley, who lived in Dennis until his death on October 6, 2004, at the age of 97, was a two-time Boston Marathon winner and ran the race 61 times.
“He was a big fan of Cape Cod Hospital and 15 years ago he donated many of his awards to us,” said Jennifer Lutz, development officer for the Cape Cod Healthcare Foundation. “We are delighted to loan this wonderful memorabilia to the Boston Athletic Association to enhance their collection and as a tribute to Kelley.”
The BAA, which is the organizer of the Boston Marathon, has the items on display at their offices in Boston, along with the many other awards, certificates, trophies and medals of other Boston Marathon champions, like Joan Benoit Samuelson and Bill Rodgers. There, they are viewed and admired by VIPs, dignitaries, sponsors, athletes and tour groups, according to Guy Morse, former executive director of the Boston Marathon. He has been with the marathon for three decades and was instrumental in the transfer of the Kelley memorabilia to the Boston Athletic Association.
“When I started with the marathon, there was no real history, offices or repository for memorabilia,” he said. “So I made it a priority to begin the process of collecting memorabilia anywhere and everywhere from past races. I had been aware for some time that the Cape Cod Healthcare Foundation was in possession of a number of Kelley’s items and was thrilled to learn the material might be available to the BAA. I knew it would be a wonderful addition to the BAA’s growing collection of marathon history and in particular, the Johnny Kelley era, which celebrates a real hometown hero.”
Among the 28 items on loan are Kelley’s plaques acknowledging his contributions to running, certificates for outstanding achievements, Boston Athletic Association banners, inscribed bowls, a 1940 Olympic team certificate, and a Runner’s World magazine cover of Kelley. One special item is a 1935 Boston Marathon laurel wreath he received for winning the race that year.
A Promoter of Good Health
Morse met Kelley at various races around the Cape and they became close friends when Morse took over the reins of the Boston Marathon in 1985. “He was still running the marathon at that point,” he said.
“Johnny was a celebrity who garnered a lot of attention. Some of my most vivid memories of John are when he would be with any group of runners, young or old. He referred to them as ‘my people’ and he would hold court, preaching to them about the importance of keeping fit and sharing his secret, ‘just don’t stop moving.’ His theme song was, ‘Young at Heart’ which he almost always sang at the close of each appearance or talk.”
In the 1980s and 90s the race didn’t close “until Johnny came trotting through,” according to Morse.
“His times were getting slower and we became concerned for his health and safety. He had so many fans along the route who wanted to have their picture taken with him or pat him on the back and it interrupted his rhythm.”
In his final years, he ran with a contingency of Massachusetts State Troopers who ran interference for him and protected him from his fans so he could work on finishing the race, he explained.
Kelley ran his last full Boston Marathon in 1992 when he was 84 years old.
“That represented his 61st Boston start and 58th finish,” said Morse.
Morse continues his 30-year mission of collecting memorabilia to add to the rich tradition, legacy and lore of the Boston Marathon.
“We should always look forward but you can’t forget your past,” he said.