Penn Charter always seemed to be a “mythical place” to Keith Kelson, mostly because of tales told by his father, who attended the school for grades one through 12.
Perry Colby Kelson OPC ’41 was not only a Penn Charter lifer, his father — Keith’s grandfather — was a member of the faculty. Everett Stanley Kelson taught mathematics and scripture and was director of the Upper School. In fact, Perry Kelson ended up in one of his father’s math classes, an experience that was “interesting,” said Keith Kelson, adding: “They had very different personalities.”
To honor his father and grandfather, Keith Kelson recently made an Annual Fund gift of $10,000 to Penn Charter, with a promise of more to come, including a bequest. The gift was fitting, given the family history, but also somewhat of a surprise.
Keith Kelson was born in Philadelphia and lived here for his first five years. But the family moved to a suburb of Dallas, Texas, and his father had a career as a finance manager for General Electric. Keith Kelson never attended his father’s alma mater and did not even return to Philadelphia until 10 years ago. Kelson is a chief financial officer, most recently for a company in Carlsbad, Calif.
After Kelson’s mother died, he decided to take his father on a road trip to Westbrook, Maine, where the Kelson family hailed from. They made a side trip to Philadelphia, with his dad in a wheelchair, and arrived unannounced in the lobby of the main building. They explained who they were, and asked the receptionist if they could look around.
“She asked us to wait a minute, went back into the office, and a minute later out walked Darryl Ford,” recalled Kelson. Ford, PC’s head of school, “proceeded to give us a 45-minute tour of the school. And it made a huge impression on me.”
When Kelson’s father went to Penn Charter, it was an all-boys and nearly all-white school. But, on his tour, Kelson noted the “demographic diversity” of the school, which also impressed him.
In a telephone interview this summer from California, Kelson explained that Penn Charter had achieved a “mythical place” in his mind because of the stories his father told about his PC experiences. He listed what made the school so special to his father: “The incredible lifelong friendships, the leadership skills, the camaraderie. He spoke highly of many of the teachers he had.”
These attributes reverberated with the son as they toured the school that day. Though nearly 70 years had passed since his father graduated, in many ways the school remained the same.
Perry Kelson died earlier this year at age 94. Keith Kelson made the pilgrimage back to Philadelphia to inter his father’s ashes in the family plot at Arlington Cemetery, in Drexel Hill. This time, the younger Kelson came with three women who had acted as his father’s caregivers in his final years. “They became like daughters to him,” he said. “And I consider them sisters.”
They, too, wanted to see this mythical place. Chief Development Officer Jack Rogers greeted and toured the group when they arrived at PC. And a few days before the visit, when Kelson told Ford he was having trouble getting a minister for a graveside service, Ford said: “I think I
can help you.”
He enlisted recently retired PC mathematics teacher Bruce MacCullough, who is a graduate of
Princeton Theological Seminary. Kelson recalls that MacCullough “did a wonderful eulogy.”
So the bond remains unbroken.