Sylvester Kelley: Eulogy
18 June 2011

Sylvester Kelley


Sylvester Kelley, who played a leading role in the fight to preserve retiree medical benefits at NV Energy, died on Monday, June 13. He was 87.

Sylvester Kelley, better known as Kelley by those who worked with him, was a man who spent his career working in the electrical trade for 40 years.

He was a man of great convictions, passion, safety driven who always said, he would not ask a man to do anything he would not do himself.

Sylvester, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, has a very interesting history. He started his apprenticeship in the late 40’s and after moving to Carson City in 1951, was promoted to lineman four years before 1245 affiliated with the AFL/CIO.

He worked his way up through the ranks and eventually was promoted to working foreman and assigned to Lake Tahoe around 1961.

He married in 1945, the same year Sierra Pacific Power Organized with the IBEW Local 1245, a California based electrical union.

One year later, in 1946, his son was born who later became an electrical worker and union member and retired from Local 396.

His years In the Lake Tahoe, Carson City, Minden Gardnerville and surrounding areas were extensive. He was instrumental in helping rebuild and restore power after a number of destructive range fires, such as Kingsbury, Genoa and the Lake View fires just to name a few.

I met Sylvester in the early 1980’s on the Lakeview fire and remember how everything was centered around safety first. He was also very instrumental in the reroute of the 14400 overhead to underground from Al Tahoe to Stateline.

During his career, he witnessed crews consisting of foreman, truck driver, equipment operator, up to three linemen and an apprentice dwindle to as small as three man crews.

People who worked with him could tell you he had a hand in most of the overhead and underground construction in this part of Northern Nevada.

Many of us retirees have fond memories of working for and alongside of Sylvester. He was a man who for many was a lifelong friend, mentor and brother; Sylvester Kelly held an IBEW Union card for 63 years. Long after he retired, he continued paying his dues. I believe he felt it was his way of giving back for all the Union did for him, even after he had retired. Many of the old timers still pay Union dues to this day. The newly organized retiree chapters have encouraged several to take honorary retirements to help them cope with their living expenses in their retirement.

Sylvester Kelley was a decorated World War II veteran who devoted his working life to Sierra Pacific Power. He returned from World War II with a Purple Heart and a finger mangled by German shrapnel. A few years after the war when he sought work at Sierra Pacific Power, now known as NVEnergy, he found the company wouldn't hire him because his damaged and bent finger wouldn't fit into a company safety glove. Sylvester had the finger amputated in order to go to work for the utility and went on to become a highly-respected foreman, trouble man and a leader in IBEW Local 1245's Reno unit in the 1950's.

Years after his retirement, Sylvester stood up to NVEnergy to help defend the retirees' medical benefits for all retirees. Last year, Sylvester Kelley became heavily involved in the union's campaign to defend retiree medical benefits at the statewide utility.

Sylvester joined the Reno/Sparks IBEW retirees Chapter in 2010, and attended as many of the monthly meetings as he could. He was always accompanied by his wife and best friend, Evelyn, whom he married in 2003 after losing his first wife in 1998.

The last meeting he was able to attend was in February, 2011. During the Pledge of Allegiance, it was obvious how weak and frail he had become.

He could not stand. I can only imagine how this made this proud man feel.

After all the business took place and the meeting was wrapping up, I remember Sylvester saying he had something he wanted to say to the group. He stated that the company is not the same company he and many others helped build and eventually retire from.

The new company attacked these dedicated workers’ benefits long after retirement. This action affected those who no longer have the strength or the resources to just jump back into the workforce. He said to us all there that day that we needed to continue the fight with NVEnergy and take it to the end.

When Sylvester thought he was right in any subject, he would stand by his convictions until he was successful, or he was proven wrong!

He was always a man of respect; do to others as you would want them do to you and be a man of truth. These traits in him were evident to me in the many ways he fought to get back on his feet right to the end. Last year, Sylvester became involved, with a little arm bending in a big way, in the retirees' chapter.

The Union asked if Sylvester would be interested in helping with a campaign to defend retiree benefits, Kelly couldn’t say yes quickly enough. His fire was already burning. He was featured in a full page newspaper ad throughout the state. He also was featured on a 60-second TV spot where he told his compelling story of service and sacrifice.

Over the next several days, Local 1245 will feature the 2010 interviews with Brother Kelly in six video installments in their media library.

In 2009, the problems started with our benefits and we realized we needed to organize a local retiree chapter. We knew that many of the older retirees didn’t have the fight left in them to carry this fight to the company.

We organized in September of 2009, nominated officers in January of 2010, elected officers in February, and affiliated with the ARA/NARA in June of 2010.

We have since then organized and started another chapter in Yerington and are in process of affiliating with ARA/NARA as we speak. There also is interest in the Carson City area for a third chapter.

The Carson area is Sylvester’s old stomping grounds and I am sure if Sylvester was still with us he would want to be right in the middle of it.

Because of the environment and hard challenges before us, such as preserving our Social Security, Medicare and Veterans Administration, to name a few, along with attacks on our retirement benefits, my fire is lite for all retirees, people as good and right as Sylvester was.

Evelyn, Arny, family and friends, I am speaking not only for myself, but on behalf of Local 1245, its leadership, brothers and sisters of Local 1245 IBEW Union and retirees, the AFL/CIO state affiliation and NARA.

Sylvester was and will continue to inspire us all.

It is Union members like him, and his dedication that should inspire all Union members to try and reach his level of dedication.

Kelley, you always will be an extraordinary brother to me. It was my good fortune to have known you, journey beside you — until we meet again, in unity and solidarity, and united we stand, and God we trust, we leave you.


Thomas Bird
President, Yerington IBEW 1245 Retirees Chapter
Vice President, NARA Board of Directors (IBEW 1245)
18 June 2011


My Admiration. My condolences My respects. Let us all realize Mr. Kelley memorializes labor's fact of life: UNTIL THE STRUGGLE IS WON, THE STRUGGLE GOES ON. May that effort and fortitude illuminate and resonate in all our battles.Paul L. DePierro, VP, Paradise Democratic Club; Member, Teamsters 631- Las Vegas, Nevada.


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