By William Smith
Fred Kelly is just the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.
He’s also one of the most helpful. After a career teaching in public education, Kelly now shepherds locals through the SHIIP process at Southeast Iowa Regional Medical Center.
The Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) helps Medicare beneficiaries better understand their Medicare coverage options and benefits.
“I present information that will help them make choices. We don’t make any choices for them, we just give them the options,” Kelly said. “In 2006, when Medicare came out with their drug plans, that became a big part of the SHIIP program.”
Kelly has been a SHIIP coordinator for a decade, strictly on a volunteer basis. There was a SHIIP office when he started at the hospital, but it wasn’t active. That soon changed.
Kelly’s role at the hospital was small at first and quickly grew. Before he knew it, Kelly had his own office on the bottom floor of the hospital.
“So from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, we spend a lot of time helping people choose drug plans. And they can change them every year,” Kelly said.
Kelly said he has had over 39,000 client contacts since he started, though that includes every repeat visit.
“You’d be surprised at the number of people who leave here with the biggest smile on their face. It’s a big decision because you’re going to be spending some money no matter which way you go. We try to help them find the least expensive way,” Kelly said.
A Career in Education
Kelly was born and raised in Burlington. He’s spent his whole life there, though he and his wife Margaret traveled the country for about four years.
Before the travel, though, there was education. Kelly was an elementary school teacher for 32 years. He graduated from Burlington Junior College, and originally wanted to be a math teacher.
“I love math and the process, but I couldn’t afford to go to a four-year college,” he said.
Things have a way of working out. Kelly discovered a passion for elementary education at Burlington Junior College, and it changed the trajectory of his life.
After three years of teaching at smaller schools, Kelly started teaching in the Burlington School District. He stayed there until retirement.
Most of the schools Kelly taught at have been torn down and replaced, but not all of them.
“I was at BlackHawk, Prospect Hill, Perkins, North Hill, and Washington,” he said.
When Kelly reached the point where he could draw full IPERS benefits, he retired from his 32-year career.
“So I retired in my 50s,” he said. “But I didn’t want to just sit around and do nothing.”
Traveling the Country
To alleviate his boredom, Kelly started cruising the help wanted ads. He came across a job he had never even thought about before — and it sounded intriguing.
Someone was needed to fill vending machines.
“It wasn’t a 40-hour-a-week job, but I loved it,” Kelly said.
That gave way to a job that allowed Kelly and his wife to travel the country on a company dime. They weren’t even sure it was real at first.
“We thought nothing could be that good,” Kelly said.
But it was. The Kellys started working for a hearing test company that was contracted to meet OSHA requirements for large corporations.
“And so for four years, we traveled all over the country. We were only home two weeks a year. We saw places that we never would have seen otherwise,” Kelly said.
Love of His Life
As Kelly gets older, he doesn’t volunteer as many hours at the hospital as he used to. Those 40-hour volunteer work weeks have been cut down to about 10 hours.
Kelly is living his best life right now. He and Margaret are celebrating 58 years of marriage this month, and he never tires of spinning the tale of their whirlwind courtship.
“We met while we were working on our master’s degrees. We had a date, and at the end of the first date, I proposed to her. And she accepted,” Kelly said with a grin.
“We were engaged in July and married in October.”
There aren’t many people as happy with the choices they made in life as Fred Kelly. He has a robust family full of healthy children and grandchildren. And he’s married to the love of his life.
“People said we would never last. So I must have made a good choice,” he said.