Kelley statue finds a home

Groton - Hopes for placement of a life-sized bronze statue of running legend and former Mystic resident John Kelley in downtown Mystic moved closer to reality on Wednesday.

The Town Council unanimously approved use of a small park area at the corner of West Main and Bank streets that was created with the Mystic streetscape project. The approval came following an outpouring of support from several residents and downtown business owners, along with a plea from members of the John Kelley Memorial Fund, which is raising funds for creation of the statue.

"He really was a true hometown hero," said River Road resident Maggie Jones, a member of the memorial fund.

In an era when towns are losing their identities, Jones said the statue could bring substance and meaning to the park.

Kelley was a 1957 Boston Marathon champion, a two-time Olympian and a Robert E. Fitch High School teacher who lived on Pequot Avenue and was known for running in the downtown area. He died last year at the age of 80.

The group raising funds for a statue of Kelley, and possibly his dog, has bounced from area to area over the past year without finding a suitable location. Previously considered locations included River Road, Pequot Avenue, Cottrell Street on the Stonington side of Mystic and Fitch High School.

Memorial fund President James Roy said the area off West Main Street is ideal, a place "for him to overlook the town he loved."

He said the group has raised $30,000 toward an estimated $100,000 price tag for the statue but could raise more if there was a set site in mind. He said contributions have come from small donations - individuals, merchants, teachers and runners alike. With the Town Council's blessing for the site, design of the statue can now start, he said.

"It's been a year now, and I'm eager to get things moving," Roy said.

Council members had tabled the request at a past meeting while looking at other possible uses for the park, such as things that celebrate Mystic's maritime, shipbuilding and seafaring history.

Town historian and council member James Streeter said there is a location in front of Bank Square Books, which was also created by the Mystic streetscape project, that could accommodate something like an anchor or compass. He said he also spoke with abutting residents and downtown store owners, with the majority in favor of the Kelley statue.

For more information about Kelley or to donate to the fund, visit johnkelley.org.

g.smith@theday.com

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