The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.
At A Glance:
Born: July 29, 1919, in Boulder, Colorado
Died: May 13, 2014 in Carson City, Nevada
Maiden Name: Best
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Married: Peter Kelley, 1944-2005
Children: Jerry Elden, Susan Kay, Nancy Caroline
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Fallon, Carson City, Washoe Valley
Major Fields of Work: Teacher
Other Role Identities: Wife, Mother, Grandmother, Great-grandmother, Community Leader
Caroline Frances Best was born on July 29, 1919, in Boulder, Colorado, the fourth child born to Elbert and Laeta Elden Best. Her father and mother, lifelong educators, were both teaching in the Boulder Prep School when they met and were married in July 1911. Caroline spent the first five years of her life in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where her father was the principal of city schools. In 1924, the Best family moved to Fallon, Nevada, where Elbert accepted a position as Superintendent of Elementary Schools. In a written recollection, Caroline described this move:
“Our family had driven over 1200 miles, mainly on dirt and gravel roads, from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to reach our new home. We came to Nevada in our Dodge touring car with our bedrolls on the running board.”
Her father quickly became an important part of the Churchill County School District, and her mother, Laeta, adjusted to a new home and busy life as a homemaker, Latin tutor, Sunday School teacher, and director of the Methodist choir.
Caroline and her family had lived in Fallon less than four years when tragedy struck. Her mother was taken to Reno for surgery and died March 4, 1928, leaving behind her husband and children aged 15, 13, 11, and 8. A tribute included in her obituary, published in the Fallon Eagle on March 5, 1928, at the time of her death, read:
“By her kindly manner and lovable disposition, she endeared herself to the people of this community . . . She possessed a beautiful voice and was ever found willing to contribute her talent to the pleasure of others.”
From that point on, Elbert was the sole parent. In her personal memoirs, Caroline wrote, “Our dad was not only a fine father, but a super mom.” Caroline, being the youngest child in the family, spent the most years with her father after her mother died. They developed a special bond that spanned many decades. Years later, the Lahontan Valley News/Fallon Eagle Standard, May 1, 1995, reported:
“Daughter Caroline remembers he (Mr. Best) went everywhere in a suit and tie, even on picnics, and could be ready in a minute to give a speech, a prayer, or cook a meal at home with confidence and dignity. . . As an outstanding role model for students and his own children, his memory lives on. E. C. Best died October 26, 1962, about a month following the dedication of the first Churchill County Junior High School (E. C. Best Jr. High).”
Caroline’s first job for wages, while still in high school, was with the Fallon Standard, a weekly newspaper. She folded the papers as they came off the press. By the time she was a senior, her wages had risen to 25 cents an hour.
After graduating from Churchill County High School, Caroline followed her three siblings to the University of Nevada in Reno. It was there that she met her husband-to-be, Pete Kelley, a journalism major from Eureka, Nevada. After graduating in 1941, with a degree in Home Economics, she continued the family tradition and started her teaching career in Yerington, Nevada. She remained for three years before transferring to Las Vegas High School. During this time, the United States was involved in World War II. Caroline’s beau, Pete, was in the Army and slated to go to the European Theater of Operations. Caroline traveled to Crewe, Virginia, to marry Pete before he was shipped overseas. They were married on July 4th, 1944, two months before he was deployed.
After the war ended, Pete was hired to be the editor of the Carson City Daily Appeal, Nevada’s oldest daily newspaper. He held this position from 1945 to 1952. They put down roots in Carson City and began to raise their family of three children, Jerry, Susan, and Nancy.
In 1952, Pete was appointed Executive Secretary to Nevada’s Senator Malone and the opportunity to live, work, and learn in Washington, D. C. presented itself. Caroline recalled:
“Our family of five children aged 5, 2, and newborn, crossed the country many times, usually traveling by car. This was before disposable diapers were a viable choice. We started each day washing diapers. We rolled up the car windows, catching the tops of the diapers in the windows, diapers outside. As we drove off down the highway, the diapers flew in the breeze.”
Having grown up in the rural West, the East Coast urban experience was a time of growth, challenges, and excitement for Caroline and Pete. In Pete’s memoir, Luck of the (Half) Irish written in the 1990s, Pete recalled:
“We were only 33 years old and there were lots of things to see and do. I had never been in Washington and just being there, really the hub of the world, was tantalizing, teasing.”
Even in the 1950s, the greater Washington, D. C. area was highly populated, and government workers were subjected to expensive housing or long commutes. The Kelley family lived in three different houses, outside our nation’s capital, during their 2-1/2 year stay. Pete spent long days working in the capitol and endured lengthy morning and evening commutes. In the meantime, Caroline ran an efficient and happy household in the suburbs. She also wrote many letters to her dad telling about their experiences, mostly fun anecdotes about their children, but also about what life was like socially and politically. In one such letter, she wrote about meeting the First Lady:
“Our lunch with Mamie in the Park room of the new Woodner Hotel was unforgettable. She was so sweet and gracious. Each of the congressional wives gave her a gift. Jane gave her a Nevada silver dollar and when she presented it, I accompanied her. Mamie said, “I’m so glad to know you, Caroline Kelley.”
In May, 1954, Pete was lured back to Nevada to handle Governor Charles Russell’s successful bid for reelection. Governor Russell appointed him as Nevada’s First Director of Economic Development, where he served for four years. Caroline, once again, prepared for a move, this time back to Nevada. She and the children packed up and joined Pete in Carson City in July, after Jerry completed second grade.
Caroline didn’t know it at the time, but the Carson City area would be her home for the next 60 years, first just blocks from the capitol and later to a lovely hillside in Washoe Valley. While Pete’s new public relations and advertising firm flourished in Nevada’s capital, Caroline returned to her profession as a teacher. She was a beloved kindergarten teacher and positively impacted hundreds of students’ lives in three elementary schools in Carson City: Fremont, Corbett, and Gleason. She delighted in being recognized and warmly greeted in the grocery store and around town by previous students well into her 80’s.
As a community leader, Caroline was involved in the Cub Scouts, Junior Ski Program, 4-H Sewing, Girl Scouts, P.T.A. President, the First Presbyterian Church, Carson Convalescent Center Volunteers, Desert Gardeners Garden Club, and P.E.O., a philanthropic organization she belonged to for over 70 years.
As a Girl Scout leader in the 1960s, Caroline organized life changing experiences for her daughters and girls their ages. For example, she exposed them to culture and a broader sense of the world by taking them on a trip to the San Francisco Opera House to see world renowned dancers, Margot Fontaine and Rudolf Nureyev, in the production of Swan Lake. That same year she made a 180 degree turn and introduced the Girl Scouts to the wonder of nature by hiking and spending time outdoors. Caroline led the troops on backpacking trips in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and into the Desolation Wilderness Area above Lake Tahoe long before it was vogue.
After Caroline retired from teaching, she worked briefly for a local travel agency gathering and organizing information for world travelers. At that point, she and Pete had already traveled to many locations in the United States and around the world. From 1973 to 2002, they visited numerable states in the U.S.A. and over 50 countries on 6 continents, sharing stories and slideshows when they returned home again. Their favorite trip was usually the most recent one they had taken, or the annual family gathering in Mexico.
Caroline was a woman with many talents, but she was probably best known for being a champion of others. As a loving and supportive wife, she was the epitome of the saying: Behind every great man there is a great woman. She was the family historian and saved decades of newspaper clippings, photos, and letters that were invaluable when Pete wrote and published his memoirs. Caroline was also an energetic and dedicated mother and an inspiration to her extended family. To her friends, she showed loyalty and love. Caroline was always ready with a smile, heartfelt compliment, word of encouragement, or a warm home-cooked meal.
Caroline passed away in Carson City on May 13, 2014 at the age of 94. A tree was planted in her honor in Carson City’s Carriage Square Park, on June 5, 2015. She is remembered for her sense of joy, unwavering faith, and positive outlook on life. She showed others how to live.
Researched and written by Nancy Kelley Valiquette. Uploaded to NWHP Website February 2016.
Sources of Information:
- “Obituary of Laeta Elden Best.” Fallon Eagle, March 5, 1928.
- “Elbert C.Best – a veritable giant of a man.” Lahontan Valley News/Fallon Eagle Standard, Monday, May 1, 1995.
- Diploma, University of Nevada, May 1941.
- Certificate of Marriage, State of Virginia, County of Nottoway, July 4, 1944.
- P.E.O. Stars of the Battle Born State, Clark, Lorraine, Editor. Compiled by Jean Stubbs, Mary Eldridge, Nancy Eldridge, Susan Wetmore, and Virginia Terry. (All members of the Legacy Committee, P.E.O. Chapter C, Ely, NV.) Utah, Alexander’s Digital Printing, date unknown.
- Kelley, Peter T. (Pete), Luck of the Half Irish, Nevada from the 20’s. Self published, 1990.
- Ibid, The Kelley Chronicles, the First 60 Years, Published by the Kelley family, 2004.
- Hand written personal recollections by Caroline Kelley and E. C. Best.
- “Former Appeal editor, Pete Kelley dies at 86.” Nevada Appeal. October 12, 2005.
- “Life in Nevada”. Sierra Place at Carson City newsletter. April 2009.
- Death Certificate, issued May, 2014, State of Nevada.
- “Memorial Tree.” Nevada Appeal, Sunday, October 25, 2015.
- Interviews and correspondence with family members: Jerry Kelley, Susan Kelley Stewart, and Carol Wilson.