Our ‘first lady of history’
By Bill Kirby Jr.
Whenever you saw the front door of her Dobbin Avenue home open, you always were welcome. And off to the sunroom Rosalie Huske Kelly would escort you for coffee or tea or perhaps a glass of white wine, and certainly for conversation about Fayetteville history that was so dear to her heart.
Our city’s “First Lady of History,” Bill Hurley, the late city mayor, affectionately described Rosalie Huske Kelly, and most appropriately so.
“Rosalie was an ambassador for her beloved historic Fayetteville,” says Bruce Daws, director of the Fayetteville Area Transportation and Local History Museum. “Conducting tours, giving programs and promoting the city’s rich heritage.”
Her passion for this city’s history was boundless. Her knowledge, too.
Rosalie Huske was born July 13, 1930, the middle daughter of William Oliver Huske and Jean Ashcraft Huske. They reared their girls in the white brick, two-story home with the green shutters along Rush Road, which affectionately came to be known in the neighborhood as Sunny Pines.
It’s where her mother, an avid gardener, nurtured those beautiful rose gardens, and where the Huske daughters spent endless hours in their childhood playhouse in the backyard. William Huske worked along with his three brothers at Huske Hardware House in the family business started by his father, the same Huske Hardware Restaurant & Brewery in the same location by the second set of railway tracks along Hay Street.
For Rosalie, Jean and Patricia Huske, it was a happy childhood with friends and Sunday mornings at St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Rosalie Huske was a popular student at Fayetteville High School, and after graduation she enrolled at Saint Mary’s Junior College in Raleigh and later graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
She married Dr. Richard Sterling Kelly Jr., a pediatrician, and the couple reared five children of their own.
“She was a happy person,” says Dr. William Huske Kelly, who followed in his father’s footsteps as a pediatrician. “There were not many people she didn’t like.”
Rosalie Huske Kelly shared her happiness with friends such as Mary Stewart, Mary Giles Rose, Eleanor McDonald, Stuart Kerr, Reggie Barton and her first cousin John Huske.
‘Deep Love For Fayetteville’
And when it came to sharing her love for Fayetteville and its history, Rosalie Huske Kelly was something of a history book in herself. “She lived her life learning as much as she could about Fayetteville’s history,” Robin Kelly said about her mother. “She shared her knowledge in so many ways, giving talks to groups and historic tours, which included military spouses, out-of-town visitors and locals”.
If there was a board or a committee, you will find the DNA of Rosalie Huske Kelly, including serving as founding member of the Junior League of Fayetteville and on the supervisory committee for archeological excavation of the old Cool Spring in downtown Fayetteville, which now is a part of Cross Creek Linear Park. She joined community leaders in designation of Fayetteville as an All-America City in 1985.
For Rosalie Huske Kelly, the celebration of All-America City status was a proud moment. “She was a part of the presenting delegation,” son Dr. William Kelly says. “That was an identity she was mighty proud of, and she thought it was deserved for the town.”
Fingerprints And Footprints
Longtime Fayetteville resident George Breece says that when the All-America City designation came in 1985, it was just one of her many tireless efforts in Rosalie Huske Kelly’s passion for promoting the best of Fayetteville.
“She and Bill Hurley, along with Harry Shaw, Stuart Kerr, Ken Robinson, Bruce Daws and Reggie Barton, were a great team, always in the trenches working for what was best for Fayetteville, and you could always find Rosalie Kelly leading the way,” he said.
“She was a true champion for Fayetteville and had a sincere caring passion for others,” Breece says. “One could write a book on the positive impact Rosalie Kelly had on Fayetteville. She leaves behind a grateful community and a great family legacy filled to the brim. Rosalie Kelly’s signature is written in Susan B. Anthony size across Fayetteville’s history.”
‘A Fine Southern Lady’
Bruce Daws looks back on Rosalie Huske Kelly with admiration.
“I have lots of fond memories of Rosalie,” Daws says. “I was lucky to serve on some of her committees and assist in various history-related projects. She was my mentor. She chaired the North Carolina 400th anniversary for Cumberland County, and she and Bill Hurley co-chaired the Bicentennial of the Constitutional Ratification.
“She was truly a fine Southern lady of the old school, charming and gracious, and always a pleasure to work with,” Daws says. “Her spirit and enthusiasm for history was contagious, and she touched the lives of so many. I am a better person for having known Rosalie Kelly, the ‘First Lady of History.’”
‘A Remarkable Woman’
Ken Robinson knew Rosalie Huske Kelly, too.
“It wasn’t just her knowledge of history. She had deep roots in Fayetteville, and also a knowledge of preservation and great respect for the community,” says Robinson, an archeologist who came to Fayetteville in 1983 to do studies on Cool Spring Street. “She was just a juggernaut in historical preservation.”
Robinson gives thought to her love of the city dogwoods in spring bloom, too, and her support of the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival origins in the early 1980s.
“She was,” Robinson says, “a remarkable woman.”
‘She Was My Best Friend’
Rosalie Huske Kelly died August 28, 2011.
She was 81.
She never waned in loving this city and its history.
Rosalie Huske Kelly never tired of telling Fayetteville’s story, whether in front of a lectern with an eager audience or in her sunroom along Dobbin Avenue with morning coffee or afternoon tea or a glass of evening wine.
“She was my best friend,” Robin Kelly says about her mother. “She loved people and never met a stranger. She was taught to be kind to everyone and to treat people with respect. And she certainly did that throughout her life. She set the bar high for us and always led by example.”
She was Rosalie Huske Kelly, and Rosalie Huske Kelly never tired of telling Fayetteville’s historic story.
Contact Bill Kirby Jr. at email@example.com or 910-624-1961. Read more of his columns in our weekly Insider newsletter. Subscribe at cityviewnc.com or text CityView to 22999.