Tom Kelley has been here before. The Mad Anthonys have been part of his life for 49 years. He’s been to countless Red Coat ceremonies throughout the years, including in 1998 when his late father, Jim, was honored.
But he never envisioned a night like Tuesday. In front of dozens of family members and friends in the St. Joseph Ballroom at the Hotel Fort Wayne, Kelley received a Red Coat that many believed was long overdue.
For Kelley, 62, memories of a life lived in Fort Wayne flooded back, drawing a wide grin across his face.
“It certainly makes it a more unique award because there are so many tentacles that have been part of my life,” he said. “The Mad Anthonys have been a fabric of my life. It’s that much more special and memorable.”
Kelley, president of Kelley Automotive Group, joined Gov. Mike Pence as this year’s Red Coat recipients, honoring them as Hoosier Celebrities of the Year.
The Mad Anthonys, formed in 1957, are business leaders and professionals who have raised millions of dollars for charitable endeavors. This year’s Mad Anthonys Pro-Am takes place today at Sycamore Hills Golf Club.
Amateur players will team up with professional golfers to benefit Mad Anthonys Children’s Hope House, which provides temporary lodging for families with a hospitalized child receiving critical care at any Fort Wayne community hospital, and the Evans Scholars Foundation, which provides full housing and tuition scholarships to deserving caddies across the country.
The pro-am is organized in conjunction with the Western Golf Association.
Kelley’s roots are deep with all of the above. He’s one of the most accomplished amateur golfers in northeast Indiana history, having won the Fort Wayne Golf Association’s Men’s City Tournament a record nine times. But his contributions to the game don’t only pertain to playing.
In the late 1980s – thanks to a friendship struck up with Jack Nicklaus some 30 years prior – Kelley, his father and Nicklaus teamed up to found Sycamore Hills, considered the area’s best golf course. It’s now in its second year hosting the Web.com Tour’s Hotel Fitness Championship, which takes place Thursday-Sunday.
“The thing that’s unique is I went to my first Red Coat golf tournament in 1959 when my dad played with Jack Nicklaus when he was an amateur,” said Kelley, who owned the IRL team Kelley Racing from 1998 to 2004. “I was exposed to the Mad Anthonys at a young age unlike other kids in the Fort Wayne area. I met all these great people. For me to have this award I’ve been so closely tied with because of my dad is what makes it so special and why it’s so significant to me. I’ve been to so many of these banquets and seen so many people receive the award that were great individuals. To even be considered in that same class is a tremendous honor.”
It was so far-fetched to Kelley that, despite his accolades, even after his father was awarded a Red Coat and friends nudged him about his inevitable honor, he kept all the hoopla at arms length.
“I never even thought about it,” Kelley said. “I didn’t ever put myself in that position. I thought it was neat (that my dad won), but I never thought, ‘Hey, I hope I get that some day.’ I don’t think you strive for stuff like that. You strive to win tournaments.
“You’re humbled by it, let me put it that way.”