April 21, 2010 Edition

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Former WR mayor remembered

Vivian Heyl
Staff Writer

O'Neal Kellim, who died April 14, had many roles during his life. He was husband, father, grandfather, coach, teacher, public servant and businessman. According to those who knew him, he approached life with a can-do attitude.

His daughter, Karen Coats, describes him as a caring man. "He worked hard," she said. "He always believed in young people and in helping those who needed a hand."

Benson Hart spoke of Kellim's tenure in public office, "O'Neal was one of the best mayors we ever had. We were neighbors, and when he ran for public office I told him you need to go to every house and talk to every person.

"It wasn't long before O'Neal joined me one evening on my front porch, 'I've been there,' he said, meaning that he had made the rounds and talked to everyone."

"O'Neal wasn't a man who sat around," said longtime acquaintance and friend Tom Hilburn "He was a go-getter. When he was mayor he worked as hard as any city employee. He cleaned up all the old foundations at the air base after the military moved out. It was a mess out there at College City, and O'Neal would get on the equipment and head out there and clear off the land to make it safe and usable."

Tommy Holland, who became mayor of Walnut Ridge in 1975, said, "He (Kellim) set the ground work for improving the airport. His leadership, industry and recruiting skills were responsible for helping Walnut Ridge and Lawrence County grow during that period. He helped bring in industry and revitalize the area.

Kellim and his wife Kay married in 1953. He became a teacher and coach at Delaplaine before taking a teaching position in 1957 at Hoxie, where he taught until 1962. He was elected circuit clerk in 1962 and served in that capacity until 1968. He ran for and was elected mayor of Walnut Ridge and served from 1971 until 1974. During his tenure in office he helped negotiate the agreement with Skil to open a factory in Walnut Ridge.

"He was instrumental in bringing in Skil," Hilburn said. "The city council and Kellim went to Chicago and brought home an agreement with Skil."

Kellim was a businessman whose holdings included Kellim Insurance and Real Estate Agencies. He was also co-founder, along with Fleer Harris, of Lawrence County Abstract. After retiring he became the owner and manager of Phillips Motel, which he continued to operate until his death.

Kellim was not only about work he enjoyed getting out for some fun now and then said longtime friend, Bob Hutcherson. Hutcherson tells a story about duck hunting with Kellim one day using an all terrain vehicle for transportation.

"We were crossing a slough and got the ATV stuck. Instead of hunting ducks we found ourselves spending the day trying to get that ATV out of the slough," Hutcherson said. "We went to town and brought back some rope and fastened it to the ATV. I was pulling it and O'Neal stayed with the machine. I heard a splash and turned to see what had happened. The only thing I could see of O'Neal was his cap. He came up spitting water and some choice words for me as well. We never did get to duck hunt that day."

"O'Neal wasn't satisfied until the task was finished," Hutcherson said. "He was just that kind of person. If I had to sum up O'Neal Kellim I would say, He was a Southern gentleman."

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