So much of Kent Kelley’s life was an enigma to those he called friends. He claimed a past that was rich with details of triumphs, glories, and even some intrigue, yet was often sullied by facts. But to those who did know him, two truths were plainly evident about Kelley: He was a man who possessed a grandeur of spirit that spurred him to comfort and guide others, but ultimately failed him in his own efforts to free himself from his self-imposed tethers to alcohol.
For the past several years Kelley lived on Turlock’s streets and inside a bottle. On Nov. 11, Kelley’s struggle to find sobriety came to a sad ending when he was found dead huddled in a field behind a Lander Avenue business. The official cause of death is awaiting toxicology results, though foul play is not suspected.
“Kent was a genuine good guy,” said Rex Baker, the associate pastor at Connecting Point Church of the Nazarene, who developed a friendship with Kelley over the years. “He wanted to play a part in the lives of others and help them. But his struggle with alcohol brought a lot of devastation into his life.”
Earlier this year Kelley, who was 60 years old when he passed, sat down with the Journal for an interview in the “Homeless, Not Hopeless” series and described his struggles with alcohol.
“It’s hard to describe why I’m in the situation I am,” Kelley said. “I love people so much and bad things happen sometimes… That’s what alcohol does — it captures you. I don’t want to do it, but I have to.”
While the details of Kelley’s past remain somewhat cloudy, he did readily admit that his drinking caused him to lose his family and prompted him to voluntarily live a life on the streets.
To his friends, the struggles that kept Kelley chained to his addiction were obvious, but the underlying roots of his pain were something he kept hidden from those around him.
“I asked him on more than one occasion what it was in his past that he couldn’t get over,” said Matt Bailey, who met Kelley through his ministry Diamonds in the Rough. “He wouldn’t ever give me an answer. He was a guy that was good at helping others with their problems, but he couldn’t do it for himself.”
Recalling his friend as a gracious and thoughtful man, Baker hopes Kelley’s life and death can continue to serve others.
“One of Kent’s drinking buddies spoke at a little memorial service they held and he said Kent’s life and death should be a wake-up call to them and not let another day pass without making a change,” Baker recalled. “I think Kent would be delighted to know that he is still helping others.”
The Turlock Gospel Mission is holding a Thanksgiving meal and memorial service for Kelley at 6 p.m. Thursday at Connecting Point Church of the Nazarene at 3200 E. Monte Vista Ave. The meal and service is open to anyone who wishes to attend.