Loving wife, devoted mother, precious mema, steadfast friend and neighbor, 4-H youth leader/mentor and a cherished treasure by all who knew her, Thelma Olene Taylor was born August 24, 1922 in Birthright, TX to Jim Pat and Josie Belle Taylor. She graduated from East Central High School in Tulsa in 1940 where she was active in basketball. In high school, she also met and fell in love with a Mingo rancher and rodeo contractor’s son, Bill Kelley. In their teens, the duo often traveled to local and out-of-state rodeos where she helped as secretary with the family business (K-Bar Rodeo Company) by keeping time for rodeo events and other related tasks.
Prior to moving to Rogers County 61 years ago, she and Bill lived in Tulsa where the couple started their family: daughters Barbara, Kay and Billie and their son, Bob. Thelma had worked commercially early in her adult life for American Optical Co., Fry Optical, and Buck’s Sporting Goods. Moving to their ranch in Claremore, OK in 1959, Thelma traded a commercial career for a life tending the family farm and finishing raising “the kids.” She was passionate about her farming roots and devoted her time on the family ranch to helping tend 80 head of cattle, fixing fences, cultivating the land, maintaining farm equipment and gardening. Her expertise proved helpful while serving over 60 years as a Rogers County Extension volunteer, spending countless hours at the Rogers County Fair each year taking indoor entries and volunteering wherever needed.
After the kids were grown and on their own, Thelma still stayed busy with the family ranch but sometimes ventured back into the working world with jobs at Corn’s Western Wear in Claremore and American Airlines in Tulsa, working with AA’s SkyChef division preparing snacks and meals for departing flights. In their spare time, she and Bill enjoyed traveling the United States sightseeing or closer to home playing golf and bowling. Married in 1942, the couple’s marriage would last over half a century until Bill’s death in 2000.
Whether working in retail or tending the family ranch, Thelma thoroughly enjoyed her role as “Mema” spending time with her family, grandkids and great grandkids attending sporting events, livestock shows, rodeos, family holidays, or milestone celebrations or any other youth activity. Valued for her wisdom of life events, she was always there as a “go to” source for advice, counseling or just giving a hug when that was all it took to provide comfort to her loved ones.
Thelma is preceded in death by her parents Jim and Josie Taylor; husband Bill Kelley; brothers Grady Leon and Arvis Taylor; sister-in-law Virginia Taylor; and son-in-law Tommy Steidley.
She is survived by her daughters Barbara Chance of Broken Arrow, OK; Kay Barthua and husband Mel of Greenville, SC; Billie Steidley of Claremore, OK; and son Bob Kelley of Atlanta, GA. Grandchildren include Bonnie Hykes and husband John; Darrell Chance and wife Shelly; Kelley Bridgeman and husband Corey; Sammy Leonard and husband Wade; Jacque Bronson and husband Phillip; Chris Terrell and wife Glenda; and Sean Terrell. Great Grandchildren are Karen Young; Guess Leonard and wife Chelsea; Cade Leonard; Cassidy, Cash, and Cylie Bronson; Carson and Kambrie Bridgeman; Chloe and Hayden Terrell; and Andrew, Zachary, Hannah, Ariel, and Rebekah Chance. Too numerous to list here are the many nieces, nephews, cousins, and extended family and friends in life.