Mike Kelly, leader in Sonoma County real estate industry, dies at 69

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Mike Kelly, for 30 years the most prominent voice of the Sonoma County real estate industry, died Monday at the age of 69 amid his third bout with cancer.

Kelly, an endlessly intrigued sort, grew up on the Russian River and upon choosing property sales as his career, jumped in with both feet.

Every Sunday morning, Kelly went before a microphone on Santa Rosa radio KSRO to host “The Real Estate Hour.” Every Tuesday morning, he took to the mic at the Veterans Memorial Building and welcomed fellow brokers and agents to the weekly networking and education breakfast of the Santa Rosa chapter of the North Bay Association of Realtors.

“He was an inspiration,” said friend and fellow broker John Duran. Kelly was passionate about the power of education and connection to help real-estate professionals be the best they can be and to produce smart decisions by buyers and sellers of property, Duran said.

“It was all about excellence,” he added. That, and endurance.

Kelly was a force in the land-and-buildings brokerage industry in Sonoma County for 40 years and hosted the radio show for 30.

“He was the Cal Ripkin of real estate,” Duran said. “He was our Ironman.”

His wife since 1981, Lou Ann Seaman, said that through to the end he lived boldly and with tenacity.

“He rode the horse hard and put it away wet. That was his life,” said Seaman, who met her future husband at Forestville’s El Molino High School 50 years ago.

Michael John Kelly was born in San Francisco on June 6, 1949. He was one of six sons of Palmira and Theodore Kelly, who moved their clan to Guerneville when Mike was still short of 10 years old.

The Kelly boys lived a free and occasionally mischievous life on the Russian River. Their parents ran the Stork Club bar in downtown Guerneville, in the place now occupied by the Rainbow Cattle Co. Later, Pauli and Ted Kelly operated Kelly’s Liquor Store on Fourth Street at Farmers Lane in Santa Rosa.

Mike Kelly graduated from El Molino High and took off with a buddy for an adventure in Alaska, where he toiled for a time on a king crab-processing ship off of Kodiak.

Upon returning home he enrolled in classes at Santa Rosa Junior College and worked at Kathleen’s Kitchen, a diner across Mendocino Avenue from The Press Democrat building. His wife recalls him telling about making sandwiches for longtime Press Democrat courts reporter Bony Saludes and placing a piece of waxed paper in the center to see if the veteran newsman would notice.

From SRJC, Kelly moved on to the University of San Francisco, where he studied journalism. But instead he chose to go into real estate, starting out in 1978 with the Santa Rosa firm of McElhenny, Levy & Co. Over the course of his long career he also would work at Merrill Lynch Real Estate, Centennial Associates, Pagni Associates, The Fountaingrove Group Inc. and RE/MAX of Central Santa Rosa.

He was with Keller Williams Realty since 2006. He served as president of the Sonoma County Association of Realtors in 1995 and was active over the years in many professional and service organizations, among them the Multiple Listing Service, Santa Rosa Sunrise Rotary Club, the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, the state Association of Realtors and Sonoma County Executives Association.

For an hour every Sunday, Kelly went onto KSRO to offer, most recently with colleague Allison Norman, counsel and insight in the realm of property sales and loans. He paid for the air time.

“He loved it,” his wife, Seaman, said. “He cared about the community. He cared about the people. He wanted to make sure they got the right deal.”

In his free time, Kelly was an avid fisherman, a beekeeper, a fan of the San Francisco Giants and a lover of jazz. Seaman said the two of them started going to the Monterey Jazz Festival in the early 1980s.

“We didn’t a miss a year,” she said. “That was our vacation.”

In addition to his wife in Santa Rosa, Kelly is survived by his brothers, Larry Kelly of Hilo, Hawaii; Pat Kelly of Cazadero, Kevin Kelly of Susanville and Shannon Kelly of St. Helena.

Plans for a public celebration of Mike Kelly’s life are in the works.

His wife suggests memorial donations to the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, cmosc.org/donate or P.O. Box 12323, Santa Rosa CA 95406, or to the Starcross Monastic Community, www.starcross.org or 34500 Annapolis Road, Annapolis, CA 95412.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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