Ashley Kelly

Agriculture , ’88

Fingerprints on progress

George Ashley Kelly recalls the hectic days of being a student at Wilmington College. He worked the late-night shift until 5 a.m. at Airborne Express and attended the College full time, often carrying more than 20 credit hours a term.

He learned first-hand that WC’s penchant for personal attention included — for him — faculty members purposely looking for his pick-up truck in the parking lot as they arrived at the College.

“With several 8 o’clock classes, I had more than one professor wake me up in my truck after getting off work the night before,” he said. “I doubt you’ll find that same level of caring and commitment anywhere else than Wilmington College.”

He also witnessed another type of care and commitment from the College as he spent months working with WC trustees, administrators and faculty on a project that resulted in a $19.7 million U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Rural Development loan. This long-term, low-interest, funding vehicle provided an impetus for building the Center for the Sciences and Agriculture.

Kelly is the USDA’s community programs specialist for Rural Development for a 23-county area in southwest Ohio. In his 25th year with the USDA, he manages a loan portfolio of $250 million.

He said the loan process involved a whopping number of 50 meetings and 900-plus emails en route to a successful conclusion last summer.

“This was a very complex and challenging project,” he said, stating the average Community Facility Project is between $300,000 and $500,000, “so, based on the size and scope, those numbers are reasonable.”

Kelly said he was impressed with how, in the final months of the loan process, there were four attorneys, three architects and College officials meeting bi-weekly with him to keep it on course to get the project out to bid with contracts awarded in July.

“The Board, administration and faculty were very engaged in the loan process and their due diligence for seeking out answers to questions and ensuring and protecting the interests of the College was unparalleled,” he said.

Brad Mitchell, vice president for business and finance, described Kelly as a dedicated, hardworking and service-oriented professional.

AshleyKelly-USDASigning-2“He assisted the College numerous times as we worked our way through the loan application process and he continues to work alongside Wilmington College, assisting us in ensuring we receive the very best from our construction partners,” Mitchell said. “We are fortunate to have Ashley as part of our community.”

Kelly said it’s gratifying to see the Center for the Sciences and Agriculture under construction and on target to open this summer.

“I’m really excited about it,” he added. “It’s rewarding to see all the forms, paperwork and meetings result in actual changes that impact the future of Wilmington College.”

Kelly looked back upon how Wilmington College impacted his future.

He had an idyllic childhood growing up on a small family farm north of Wilmington, until his father, 1968 WC alumnus George L. Kelly, was killed in a tragic accident the summer before Ashley’s senior year in high school.

“It was a very difficult time in my life,” he said, noting that, after graduating from Wilmington High School, he enrolled at The Ohio State University for what he describes as “the 13th grade.”

“I wasn’t the best prepared for college and I was lost on the OSU campus — I felt like a number there, not a person with a name.”

Kelly met with Monte Anderson, professor of agriculture, about studying ag at WC.

“Monte asked me about my interests and explained the courses I would take,” he recalled. “He spoke about meeting Don, Al and Harold. It wasn’t until the first week of classes I realized those weren’t the names of fellow students but professors Don Chafin, Al Conklin and Harold Thirey.

“One of the biggest advantages I see for attending WC is the smaller size and personal attention you receive,” he said. “The professors are like friends and they take a personal interest in you, and are committed to ensuring you are successful in the classroom and in your career.”

Kelly, especially now, appreciates the College’s reinforcement of students developing critical thinking skills and looking beyond the “textbook” answer to questions.

“I guess you could say we were encouraged to think outside the box long before we knew there was a box,” he said. “The College also made you aware of the social or human side of things and the impact those can have on our decisions.”

Kelly relishes the opportunity he had to take time off from working at Airborne and temporarily leave Wilmington to engage in an eight-week internship in England.

“I needed course credit in international studies to graduate and proposed an internship where I lived and worked in another culture versus reading about one in a book,” he said.

Kelly lived with a young family and worked on a 3,000-acre grain and hay corporate farm that had 900 dairy cows and they finished 1,500 hogs each week.

“It was an invaluable experience that allowed me the opportunity to be involved with almost every aspect of the course work I studied over the previous four years,” he said, noting he was able to take off Wednesdays each week to explore England.

“I came home with a greater appreciation for our country and how we live. That was a great hands-on learning experience.”

Kelly graduated in 1988 with majors in business administration and agriculture economics. Possessing an interest in banking, finance and business, he got an agricultural job with the USDA Farmers Home Administration, working in its county offices in Xenia and Greenville.

His timing afforded him the opportunity to experience quickly and profoundly the USDA Rural Development area’s mission of helping to improve the economy and quality of life in rural America.

“American farmers were hit by the worst drought (1988) since the Great Depression era and, within a few months of starting, I was making farm operating and emergency loans, attending bankruptcy and foreclosure hearings, and still working through hundreds of delinquent loans from the downturn of farming during the early 1980s,” he said.

Then, after a seven-year stint working for the USDA’s State Office in Columbus, he took his current position as community programs specialist based in Hillsboro.

Kelly, who also owns and operates a small grain farm, resides with his family just north of Wilmington near Port William. He and his wife, Holly, have a daughter, Haley, who is a pre-med, biology student at Capital University, and a son, Kalen, a freshman at Wilmington College.