NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Tom Kelley really does deserve his second Sagamore of the Wabash

News-Sentinel.com congratulates businessman and philanthropist Tom Kelley in becoming the second local Fort Wayne citizen in three weeks to receive the prestigious Sagamore of the Wabash award.

Gov. Eric Holcomb selected him for the honor, which was presented by the governor’s wife, First Lady Janet Holcomb Wednesday during the biannual Northeast Indiana Conservation Banquet and Fundraiser held at the Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation.

On April 12 Parkview Health president and CEO Mike Packnett also received a Sagamore of the Wabash at Parkview’s quarterly leadership meeting, also at the Mirro Center.

Kelley was also given a Sagamore of the Wabash in 2003 by former Gov. Frank O’Bannon. The award is considered Indiana’s highest honor for civilians.

The Sagamore of the Wabash award was created during Gov. Ralph Gates’ term in office between 1945-1949 as a personal tribute usually given to men or women who have rendered a distinguished service to the community and/or contributed greatly to our Hoosier heritage.

“Sagamore” was a term used by the Algonquin tribe to describe a great man among them with whom the chief consulted for wisdom and advice. “The Wabash” refers to Indiana’s official state river.

Kelley, president of Kelley Automotive, is one of a select few honorees who have received the award more than once. According to the governor’s office description of the award in 1992, “There is no record of the total number that have been presented, as each governor has kept his own roll; just as each has reserved the right to select recipients personally.”

Among previous recipients was Tom’s father, Jim Kelley, who was awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash when Gov. O’Bannon declared him Indiana’s Citizen of the Year in 2001. Jim Kelley, who had been chairman of Kelley Automotive Group that was formed in 1952, died in 2005 at age 87.

Tom Kelley has a huge resume of accomplishments and endeavors beyond his role as president of Kelley Automotive and has been a dedicated citizen of Fort Wayne and the Hoosier state.

Kelley’s auto group supports the Boys & Girls Club as well as the Make-A-Wish Foundation in partnership with the United Auto Workers.

A fierce competitor, Kelley is a nine-time Fort Wayne Men’s City Golf Tournament champion and has played the game more than once with Tiger Woods and former President George W. Bush.

In 1997, he started Kelley Racing, which competed in the Indy Racing League and the IndyCar Series through 2004. The team won nine races and sat on the pole of the 2001 Indianapolis 500 with Scott Sharp.

He’s also an airplane pilot and won a first-place trophy in the Reno Air Races in 1985.

Kelley’s auto dealerships include GMC, Buick, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Ford, Volvo and BMW on car lots in Fort Wayne and Decatur. Last year he announced plans to relocate five local Kelley Automotive operations on property he bought from billionaire retailer John Menard on Illinois Road at I69.

In keeping with Kelley’s modesty and sincerity, he said at Wednesday’s presentation, “I don’t deserve it. There are a lot of great people who do a lot of great things.” When he received the award the first time 16 years ago, he said, “”It’s humbling to be in the company of the other recipients of this award.”

News-Sentinel.com is proud to salute Kelley’s lifetime of service and dedication to the community in which he has chosen to live and work.

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