Mashantuket - An exhibit honoring the late 1957 Boston marathon winner John Kelley of Mystic soon will be added to "Victory: An Exhibition Celebrating Boston Sports," which is on display through the end of February at Foxwoods Resort Casino.
On Dec. 10, four-time Boston Marathon winner Bill Rodgers, one of the country's greatest distance runners, will be the guest speaker when Kelley's memorabilia is added to the exhibit.
"It's going to be an honor for me to go to Foxwoods and speak about him," Rodgers said Friday. "John was a superb person. All of us who knew him feel the same way."
He said there are many New Englanders who became successful distance runners because of Kelley's influence on the sport. "Every sport has its leaders and coaches. He was one of those people in our sport," Rodgers said. "We need as many of him as we can get."
"Every year I'd see him at the Boston Marathon press conference and, even though he was one of the top athletes of the 1950s, he was the lowest-key guy in the place," he recalled. "He never wanted any attention."
Although Kelley raced at a time when athletes were prohibited from accepting cash and prizes if they wanted to maintain their eligibility, Rodgers said, it was people like Kelley who paved the way for today's cash purses and sponsorships.
Kelley was a two-time Olympian and eight-time national marathon champion who taught and coached at Fitch High School. An accomplished writer who in his later years drove a cab and worked in the running shoe store in Olde Mistick Village named after him, Kelley died in August 2011. He and his wife Jessie, who predeceased him, lived on Pequot Avenue.
Jim Roy, who heads the local group trying to erect a life-size bronze statue of Kelley in the newly created park next to Mystic Pizza, said the approval of the site by Groton officials coupled with the Kelley exhibit will help spur fundraising. Thus far, the group has raised about one-third of the needed $90,000 through donations and various efforts such as auctioning off entries into the Boston Marathon and the Mount Washington road race.
"The exhibit will help educate the public about the statue. Getting a portion of the profits is great but getting the word out with the exhibit is more important," he said, referring to the fact that a portion of ticket sales to the Victory exhibit during the week of Dec. 10 will be donated to the statue fund.
Foxwoods manager of public relations Dale Wolbrink said the idea for Kelley's inclusion in the Victory exhibit came from Bruce Flax, the casino's director of ticketing, operations and entertainment marketing, who had heard the group was trying to raise money for the statue.
"He wanted us to do something to help," she said of Flax. "It made sense to do this with what we had on display here."
The Victory exhibit is a collection of artifacts, works of art and memorabilia that celebrates the best of Boston sports. This is the first time it's been displayed outside the The Sports Museum at the TD Garden in Boston.
Roy said the Kelley family is collecting memorabilia for the exhibit, a task which is not easy because Kelley was so generous that he gave away things like his Olympic singlets over the years.
IF YOU GO
What: John Kelley exhibit opening
When: Dec. 10
Time: 3 to 5 p.m.
Location: Grand Cedar Exhibition Hall, Foxwoods Resort Casino.
Exhibit tickets: $15 for adults, $10 for children ages 3-11, and $12 for seniors. Available at www.foxwoods.com, 866-646-0609, or in person at the box office.
Statue Fund: Donations to the John Kelley Memorial Fund can be made at www.JohnKelley. or by sending them to Jim Roy, 58 Cottage St, Groton, 06340.