Dr. Kelly was born in Grant County, son of Miles and Lydia Jane Wells Kelly on June 10, 1885, the youngest of three boys. His mother died February 26,1894. His father married Martha Safronia King on December 25, 1894. He was raised on a farm and gained a life time appreciation of cattle.
As a young man, he traveled to Kentucky to go to medical school and graduated from the University of Louisville in 1909 at the age of 24. He set up his first practice in Carthage, Arkansas (Dallas County).
The following year on August 10, 1910 he married Bethunia Roane Lea, the granddaughter of former Governor John S. Roane. The marriage was short. Only 13 months passed before she died of typhoid and pneumonia. Dr. Kelly then relocated in Sheridan (Grant County) in 1913. He lived in a boarding house until he married Ellen Forrester on October 25, of the same year. The couple had one daughter.
In his early years Dr. Kelly used a horse, or horse and buggy, to make sick calls. His medical territory was exceedingly broad and at times he was the only physician in the county. In 1917, he purchased a car which made it easier to visit patients except in the rainy season when the roads became nearly impassable. The lumber business was thriving and he became the physician for a local lumber company and he was also doctor for the Missouri-Pacific Railroad.
Dr. Kelly and his wife, Ellen Forrester Kelly, bought a house from a well-known and respected Jewish merchant, Jake Glaser in 1932. The house was large and Dr. Kelly never turned patients away when they came to his door. Patients would come any time and wait their turn for treatment on the front porch or in the living room. There was even a “worn-in place on the front door from people knocking on it”.* The patients were often farmers and he was paid in produce from gardens such as cantaloupe or watermelon.
During the flu epidemic of 1919, Kr. Kelly traveled from Sheridan to Belfast, a small community located northwest of Sheridan-near Saline County-to care for the sick when the Belfast doctor became ill. He had to go by the train because the roads were too muddy for automobiles due to the rainy season. When he arrived in Belfast a local boy met him at the train station with a horse. He rode horseback throughout the community treating the sick.
Even with his busy work as the popular and prominent doctor in the county he become involved in the community work. He was a charter, and Honorary Life Time Member of the Rotary Club, a member of the masonic lodge, a member of the Baptist Church (his brother was a Baptist minister) and a life time member of the P.T.A.
Professionally he was a member of the Arkansas Medical Association, the American Medical Association, the Southern Medical Association, was president of the Grant County Medical Association. He became concerned with the physically handicapped persons and was a leader of the County’s effort in rehabilitation.
Always interested in education he was on the school board in Carthage before moving to Sheridan. Beginning in 1923, he served 29 years on the Sheridan school board and was President of the Board for 27 years. His financial contributions were numerous. He generously supported the Sheridan Library, the school gymnasium, the Grant County Memorial Building. His hobby was raising pure-bred beef cattle, using modern equipment and techniques setting an example for others to follow–and they did.
Believed to have been built in the early 1920s, the house that Dr. and Mrs. Kelly bought in 1932 served until they died in 1955 and 1988 respectively. Their daughter, Mary Kelly McKenzie took ownership. During these years they added only minimal changes: decorative tile fire place, and outside in the back, a barn for an occasional cow or calf. The house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is important because it is associated with the two prominent Sheridan men, Jake Glaser, a Jewish merchant and Dr. Obie R. Kelly, a leading physician and philanthropist.
Dr. Kelly died December 29, 1955 in his house of a heart attack, having been the honored and beloved physician for Grant County for more than 42 years. He had practiced medicine more than 44 years. Burial was at Sheridan Cemetery.
*National Register of Historic Places. Section 8 page 2 Glaser-Kelly House.
Betty L. Battenfield, 2019