James W. Kelly, 87
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Gone home to his maker, James "Jim" W. Kelly, also known as "JW," left this earth on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022.
He was born "on the kitchen floor" (as he said), on March 4, 1935, in the town of Washington to Mary (Dunn) and John J. Kelly. He grew up in rural Washington and Dalton with his five siblings. He attended grammar school at St. Mary's in Pittsfield, and later went on to Pittsfield High School.
He and his brother, Don, worked for his father, John, at the Kelly Lumber operations in Pittsfield. Kelly Lumber grew to be the largest hardwood lumber operation in the East, exporting overseas 85 percent of all its dry-kilned and finished top furniture-grade hardwoods around the world. The company also operated Berkshire Pallet, which manufactured wooden pallets for shipping goods worldwide.
At 17, JW left school, and enlisted in the Seabees branch of the U.S. Navy, during the Korean War. In the Seabees, he worked on many projects on various islands in the Pacific, most notably Midway Island and the Philippines. When he returned from his time in the Navy, he went back to work for his father as a timber cruiser.
It was not long before he met his future wife and love of his life, Dorothy "Dot" Godek of Adams. Without her, he would never have been able to accomplish the milestones he achieved. Shortly after marriage, JW brought Dot to Memphis, Tenn., where he attended the National Hardwood Lumber Association's Inspector Training School to further his expertise in the lumber business. They just got back to Pittsfield in time to have their first child. JW then went back to work for his father as a lumber grader and timber cruiser.
It was in 1964, that JW, cruising timber, bought a mountain in New Ashford for the lumber company. He was told that this mountain had great potential for a ski resort. JW liked the idea. Unbeknownst to his father, JW began clearing trees for ski trails, where he soon built the Brodie Mountain Ski Resort. JW soon left the lumber business to concentrate on the ski business.
At the time of rustic ski areas, with T-bars, rope tows, and nitty-gritty lodges with loose stone floors, Brodie was a very unusual ski area of the time, offering chair lifts, and posh carpeted floors in the lodge, and even a classy restaurant and lounge. The lodge boasted the largest free-standing fieldstone chimney in the United States, with two huge indoor hearths. Everything was named on an Irish theme. The resort became known as "Kelly's Irish Alps" by the public. "The Blarney Room," the third and top floor of the ski lodge, became an instant hit with the locals, having a performance stage and a huge dance floor, with the tops in live entertainment, and attracting several hundreds of patrons at a time. Locals were treated to live performances of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Frank Sinatra Jr., the Irish Clancy Brothers, the Irish Rovers, and many, many, more. Brodie even created its own house band, recruiting musicians straight from Ireland for many years. The Blarney Room now has legendary status with those who remember it.
1964 was the year JW opened Brodie for skiing, but there was only one problem -- no snow. That year, there had been one big blizzard early on, but it had mostly melted away. There were still some very large snow drifts along the city snow fences along Benedict Road, near the present Berkshire Hills Country Club. JW had the idea of using his father's big lumber hauling trucks and scooping up the snow drifts on Benedict hill and hauling the snow to New Ashford, where he spread it out on the "Harp's Hump" base trail. As it turned out, Brodie was just about the only place in the East to offer skiing for Christmas that year. An article in the New York Times sent skiers flocking to discover Brodie, which became an instant hit.
JW was not going to let a dearth of snow set him back again! The next year, in 1965, with his uncanny foresight, he installed the world's first top-to-bottom snow-making system. In 1967, he went on to install the world's first top-to-bottom lighting for night skiing operations. In 1969, JW invented and patented his "Hard Pak Pulverizer," a machine that ground hard-pack snow and ice into a fine powder. This concept is in wide use today at just about any ski area, and is now known as the modern "snow tiller."
At its height, Brodie Mountain Resort could boast Massachusetts' largest ski area, the family-oriented Brodie RV Campground, The Blarney Room Restaurant and Lounge, Kelly's Irish Pub, The Brodie Racquet Club, The Dublin House Motel, The Kerry House Motel, The Carriage House Motel, The Brodie XC Ski Touring Center, Kelly's Diner, The Paddy Advertising Agency, and Kelly Realty Company.
In 1981, Brodie pioneered wind power to offset energy use at the resort with the first known ski resort to have power generated by a wind turbine on top of the mountain. Brodie was also home to some of the longest-running pro ski races in the USA. All of JW's sons, and also his daughter worked at these various operations. Early on, the Kennedy family discovered Brodie and made it their Berkshire destination of many family outings for both skiing and camping.
Even off-season, Brodie quickly became the venue for all sorts of the largest gatherings; weddings, political rallies, car shows, and more. With a capacity of over 300, the Blarney room was busy catering and hosting many large events. JW was always heartened by a constant flow of people relating their fond memories of Brodie. The mission of Brodie was always to create a family atmosphere where three generations of the same family would be having fun together.
In 1984, after the retirement of his brother, Donald, JW took over management of the Kelly Hardwood Lumber operations in Pittsfield and left Brodie to be managed by his sons, Matt and Doug. JW built the large J.W. Kelly Steam & Electric Plant at the Pittsfield site, generating 3.5 megawatts of electricity from the wood waste scraps from the sawmill operations. In 1999, JW sold the Brodie operations to Brian Fairbank, operator of Jiminy Peak. Immediately bored with retirement, JW built and opened the Donnybrook Country Club in Lanesborough in 2008, creating (according to Yankee Magazine) "The biggest stone walls in New England," and was dubbed "The Rock Star of Lanesborough." JW still worked at Donnybrook seven days per week, as long as he was able.
JW leaves behind his wife of 67 years, Dorothy; their five children, Matthew (Mary), Andrew (Susan), Daniel, Jamie, and Douglas (Shelley); his sisters Patricia O'Connell, Gloria Slonski and Justine Brown; 10 grandchildren, Abby, Becky, Tessa, John, Audrey, Shaun, Rene, Megan, Veronica and Hayley; and 11 great-grandchildren. The grandkids will all miss JW's unique rendition of "The Preacher and the Bear."
He was predeceased by his brother Donald and sister Jean Disco.
The family wishes to thank the staff at Springside Nursing Home and Dr. Barry Lobovitz for the excellent care JW received.
FUNERAL NOTICE: A Liturgy of Christian Burial will be held, Friday, Sept. 9, 2022, at 10 a.m. at St. Mark's Church, concelebrated by the Rev. Christopher Fedoryshyn, pastor, and the Rev. Peter A. Gregory. Burial with military honors will follow at St. Joseph's Cemetery.
Calling hours will be held, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022, from 4 to 7 p.m. at DERY FUNERAL HOME, 54 Bradford St, Pittsfield. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made in his name to St. Mark's Church or Soldier On in the care of the funeral home.
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