Coach Ken Kelley remembered for a life dedicated to swimming
Kenneth “Ken” Kelley, who coached generations of swimmers at Apex Park and Recreation District, passed away in late November. His career in aquatics spanned over 50 years and began in 1957 when he was the first lifeguard at North Jeffco Pool. Soon afterward, he started coaching, and in that capacity, touched thousands of lives.
After the lifeguard job and his entry into the swim coaching business, Ken became more instrumental in the newly-formed park and recreation district. He helped make two indoor pools happen: McFadden Pool at the former Ralston Recreation Center, and about a decade later, George J. Meyers Pool, currently a regional venue for competitive swimming and diving, as well as headquarters for a wide variety of community aquatic programs.
All that aside, when talking to those who knew Ken well, the swimmers he coached and worked with were foremost in his mind and heart. He had the reputation for being a tough, no-nonsense coach, which he admitted with pride. “I’m a taskmaster, still am. If you’re going to do it, do it well,” Ken said in the book Arvada Profiles: Stories of the People Who Most Influenced Our First 100 Years. But beneath the gruff exterior was the proverbial heart of gold. “With Ken, you had to prove yourself, and he had extremely high expectations,” said Nate Christianson, manager of Meyers Pool.
Nate worked with Ken from the time he started working for the district in 2000. Ken’s background in coaching competitive swimming, along with his knowledge of the operational aspects of pools, made him a very valuable co-worker and mentor. Nate also has many memories of former swimmers coached by Ken, and children of swimmers coached by Ken, stopping by to visit. “He trained several generations of swimmers,” Nate said, “and several of them made it to the Olympic trials.”
Betsy Sauter, Aquatics Office Manager for Apex Park and Recreation District, also had a long working relationship with Ken, beginning in 1991 when she joined the district. She underscored his “tough guy with a heart of gold” reputation and his long-time devotion to the swimmers he coached. “He started the suburban swim league in the 1950s and coached thousands of kids. He also had a lot of expertise about pool operations and oftentimes fixed things himself.” Like Nate, Betsy often witnessed Ken’s “Let’s see what you’re made of” attitude. But overall, she said, “he was in it for the kids.”
Despite his long and successful coaching career, Ken lived a modest life in Arvada – but he wasn’t alone. A group of friends and colleagues, calling themselves “Kelley’s Heroes” reached out to help him in recent years, after he retired from coaching and subsequently underwent some physical challenges.
Overall, he was truly dedicated to the sport, referring to it as “more of a hobby than a job.” But he also took his responsibility seriously; when asked about his impact on the community for the Arvada Profiles book, he said “I hope it’s all been good. I would say my impact has been an effort to drown-proof Arvada.”