Atkinson — Jay David William Kelly, 77, of Atkinson, died Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020 at CHI Health Center in Kearney due to medical conditions complicated by the indiscriminatory Covid-19 virus.

A public memorial service is planned for a later date when it is safe for everyone to gather. Pastor Wayne Owens will officiate. Military rites will be provided by the Atkinson American Legion Post 86.

Burial will be in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Atkinson.

Seger Funeral Home in Atkinson is in charge of the arrangements.

Jay was born in Butte, MT to Jay and Marie Kelly. The oldest of three children, his love for adventure and the outdoors made Butte the perfect place to start. 

During his early years, Jay played youth hockey and for a short time, was coached by the legendary daredevil Evel Kneivel, which would become just one of the many sources of pride for his only son Jeffery. 

He graduated from Butte High School in 1960 and immediately after graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. Following basic training, he was stationed at Offut Air Force Base in Omaha. 

As with any, the camaraderie with his fellow airmen had put him attending a fellow airman’s wedding in the small town of Atkinson. This wedding would mix the plaster which cast the statue depicting the remainder of his life when he asked a former Hay Days Princess to dance with him. During that dance he learned her name was Joyce Gilbert. Cupid surely had danced along with them because two months later the two former strangers became husband and wife on Dec. 26, 1964. Jay and Joyce’s son Jeff was born the following year on Sept. 5th, just two days after Jay’s birthday. 

Following his honorary discharge from the Air Force in 1965, the newlyweds moved to rural Holt County Nebraska. Jay worked at the P&P feed lots north of Atkinson while his wife Joyce took care of the duties at home. 

During this time, Jay had revisited his passionate love for music and began playing guitar. Soon he joined a small band with Alvin Krysl and G.L. "Tom" Schaaf called the Country Cousins. The group played dances in the Atkinson area until Jay formed another band called The Purple Sage Band. Jay taught his wife Joyce to play bass guitar with this group so the two of them could be together in both marriage and band. The couple later met the members of a group called Tequila Sunrise who were looking for a guy who could sing and play guitar. Fate sent Jay Kelly to them because he had the uncanny ability to do both, bonused by the addition of Joyce on bass guitar. This musical group was a long-running entertainment staple in the central Nebraska area for more than 18 years to come. Jay’s love for music also later led him to become a teacher of guitar and fiddle by giving lessons to youngsters in the Atkinson area. 

The Kelly family had moved from country to town residing in a quaint little corner house located in Atkinson in 1973 which became their permanent home. 

Jay began working on the Fred Horne ranch located north of Atkinson, often being joined during the summer months by his son Jeff. Jay’s abilities to work with tools and his knowledge of building and fixing things again became an asset when he started doing contracting work around the Atkinson area for over a decade. 

Jay always strived to do the job right, no matter how much extra work it was. He was a perfectionist through and through. 

Later in life, Jay and Joyce began attending country and bluegrass music festivals and with Jay’s amazing ability to play almost any instrument, he taught himself how to play the fiddle and a legacy was born. Jay became one of the most demanded fiddle players at these festivals because he could “just play anything.” His abilities later landed him spots in both the Old Time Fiddler’s Hall of Fame of Iowa and The Country Music Hall of Fame of Iowa. To this day, he is the only person inducted into both of these prestigious academies. 

During the years, Joyce and Jay became a constantly seen couple at countless music festivals, never far apart on the grounds of any event. 

They spent the winter months in Texas during the remainder of Jay’s life, playing music with many new friends all along the southernmost tip of the United States. Jay so loved his musical family and the feeling was mutual with hundreds of their friends – he always had a tune running through his head, always. 

Jay always welcomed anyone with kindness, hospitality and song.

Jay is survived by his wife Joyce; one son Jeff (Kathleen) Kelly; one sister Rose Marie and nephews David, Ricky and Wayne; two sisters-in-law Mickey (Butch) Braun of Atkinson and nephew Michael (Alison) Braun and niece Michelle (Tom) Laetsch and Julene (Dennis) Simonds of Lincoln and nieces Heather (Ryan) Kness and Amy Salo; and Jay also considered his “Music Family,” the people he’d met at the musical events, as extended relatives and treated them as members of his own family. 

He was preceded in death by his father Jay, his mother Marie, one younger brother Oscar Kelly and one cousin Halsey.   



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