By Janet C. Wetzel
HAMILTON - Bob Kelly says he usually isn't easy to influence, but just one child's comment two decades ago changed his life.It happened while he was walking in a March of Dimes Walk America event.
A little girl with spina bifida rolled up to him in her child-sized wheelchair and asked: "All three of your kids are healthy, so why are you doing this?"
"It's like someone stabbed me in the heart," said Kelly, of Hamilton. "It just touched me so. And it made me know how important it is to help. Then I just couldn't seem to stop."
So for more than 20 years, Kelly hasn't stopped. And he doesn't just take pledges and join the annual walk.
Kelly, a registered nurse at Christ Hospital for 33 years, helps the March of Dimes all year.
He recruits walkers, helps set up teams, does fund-raising, calls organizations to generate interest, seeks donated gifts for walkers and runs a registration booth in the hospital cafeteria.
"He's totally dedicated," said Lisa Holloway, associate director of program services for the Greater Cincinnati Division of the March of Dimes. "We keep him very busy. He's always willing, enthusiastic, always upbeat and ready to go. He keeps coming back year after year to help us, and he keeps leading the effort at Christ Hospital."
Kelly took the March of Dimes cause to co-workers in 1983. That year, Christ Hospital fielded a team of about 20, raising $3,000. The next year, Kelly set up the first hospital registration booth, which helped attract a team of 40. The team raised about $5,000.
"We had a full-fledged team the next few years, complete with T-shirts and a vinyl sign instead of the cardboard one," Kelly said.
Next, he tried to spark a little friendly competition among walk teams.
"I issued a challenge to other area hospitals to see who could raise the most money in the walk - sort of for bragging rights," Kelly said, laughing. "We began beating the bushes to get more walkers and raise more money."
Several area hospitals joined in, and for years Christ Hospital and University Hospital were usually among the top 10 organizations in money raised, he said. When Christ Hospital joined the Health Alliance in 1994, the hospitals continued the competition.
Kelly said he continues his March of Dimes work because he believes in its mission to decrease birth defects.
"I never dreamed I'd still be doing this," he said. "But you get to the point you just can't stop."
Do you know a Hometown Hero - someone in your community dedicated to making it a better place to live and helping others? E-mail Janet Wetzel at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fax to (513) 755-4150.
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