I'm always on the lookout for a topic to write about in this blog.
Recently, it occurred to me that I should do something about Isaac R. Kelso, a prominent lawyer in Cape Girardeau and St. Louis. Kelso went by his initials, "I.R.," and all the stories I have ever read about him referred to him as "I.R. Kelso." It wasn't until I looked at his death certificate that I learned his full name. Not even his obituary in The Southeast Missourian used his Christian name.
It's obvious from reading the story of his death that Kelso was greatly admired by the publishers of the Missourian. At a time when bylines were scarce in the Missourian and death notices were relegated to inside pages, Judge Kelso's obituary bears the byline "By NAETER BROTHERS" and is situated at the top of the front page with a two-column photograph.
I decided this obit would make up the heart of this blog about Kelso, but when I looked for the second part of it -- in newspapering, it's referred to as "the jump" -- I found it was missing from the microfilm. For some unknown reason, the microfilm only includes eight pages of that 14-page edition.
What to do... I couldn't just publish the front page part of the obit without the jump. That would be incomplete. It would leave readers hanging, like a television series cliff-hanger that's not renewed for a new season.
But, fear not. Tucked away in my closet here at the Missourian morgue are a number of scrapbooks. Among them is a scruffy, brown-covered album held together with binder's twine. But, oh, the treasures it contains. Not only does it have the jump from Kelso's obit, it also has a series of articles the Naeter Brothers did about Kelso and his unselfish civic work.
In the coming weeks, I'll share some of those articles. But first, here's I.R. Kelso's obituary, complete with jump.
I.R. Kelso (Lueders Studio photograph — Southeast Missourian archive)
Published Friday, Nov. 23, 1951, The Southeast Missourian:
LAWYER -- COUNSELOR
By NAETER BROTHERS
I.R. Kelso, widely known lawyer and civic leader of Cape Girardeau, died in a hospital in St. Louis Wednesday at 6 o'clock p.m. His death was not unexpected because he had been in a coma most of the time since he was taken to the hospital the first day of November.
As the family burial plot is in a cemetery at Mexico, Missouri, he was buried there at 3 o'clock this afternoon (Friday, Nov. 23, 1951).
Throughout his latest illness his immediate family remained in St. Louis. Mrs. Kelso, who has not been in good health for some time, and Mrs. Ruth Kelso Renfrow, wife of Brigadier General Louis H. Renfrow, deputy to General Lewis B. Hershey in Washington, were in attendance upon Mr. Kelso from the time he went to the hospital. Mrs. Renfrow is an only child of the couple.
The Renfrows have two sons who have spent much of their time with their grandparents: Robert Renfrow, a graduate of Southeast State College, and now a teacher in the school at Illmo-Fornfelt, and Richard, who is a graduate of Maryland University and a former student of the College.
An only sister, Miss Dennis Kelso, who has spent much of her life with the Kelsos, completed the family.
The funeral was conducted by the Rev. Philip Carlyle of the Christian Church in Mexico.
In the burying ground in Mexico rest the bodies of Mrs. Mary Kilgore, mother of Mrs. Kelso, and Mrs. J.N. McKee and her husband, Rev. McKee, Mrs. McKee being the daughter of Mrs. Kilgore and a sister of Mrs. Kelso.
Resident of Mexico.
Mr. Kelso was born on a farm in Audrain County, Missouri, Sept. 13, 1871, and attended the public schools in Mexico. (NOTE: His death certificate says he was born in "Caloway County, Missouri." -- Sharon) Upon completion there he went to Westminster College in Fulton, and although the Kelso family was always active in the Christian Church, the Kelso lad was sent by his father to Westminster, the leading Presbyterian school in Missouri. In later years he was made a member of the Board o Curators and held the distinction continuously.
Mr. Kelso began the practice of law in Mexico and married Miss Nellye S. Kilgore, member of a pioneer family of Audrain County, Nov. 22, 1893, and they would have had their 58th wedding anniversary on Thanksgiving Day (the day after he died).
The pallbearers were: Lynn Hutson Cape Girardeau, Robert Abbott of St. Louis, Herbert Black of Columbia, Jack Baker and Frank Kelso of Mexico, George Whaley of Bonne Terre and Joseph and Robert Acuff of Springfield.
Honorary pallbearers, George A. and Fred Naeter of Cape Girardeau.
Dr. J.H. Ruff of Cape Girardeau, life-long associate of the family, sang at the service.
Came from Kennett.
Mr. Kelso, after practicing law in Mexico a few years, moved to Kennett in 1893. While living there his one child was born. In 1906 the family moved to Cape Girardeau and he organized the law firm of Miller and Kelso, with offices in the H.-H. Building.
His introduction to the city was mainly through the campaign to secure an International shoe factory which was then in its final stages, and from then on he went from one civic campaign to another, but apparently never failed to give due attention to his law business.
In 1909 a St. Louis group purchased the utility concern, owned by local men, and after serving the local interests until the property was taken over by the St. Louisans, he eventually became the attorney for the utility business and from then on he devoted his major time to utility affairs. This condition caused him to move his residence to St. Louis, but he kept his voting home here.
Eventually he was made president of the Southeast Missouri Utility Company and extended its lines throughout the district. This change made it possible for him to return here and he then established his home at Arboreta, a suburban place that soon became the mecca of his friends and visiting dignitaries. The place is still the home of the family.
Some years ago Mr. Kelso retired from the utility business, which had been owned and controlled by New York financiers, and the outcome was the purchase of the property by local interests. Since then he looked after his personal affairs, including his large holdings in Cape Girardeau.
Gradually he acquired much city and suburban property and he also organized the Kelso Oil Company, which covers a wide territory. This concern owns the Alvarado building at the intersection of Broadway and Highway 61, one of the finest restaurants and oil filling stations to be seen anywhere.
Mr. Kelso never overlooked an opportunity to help in civic affairs. He was an active member of the Christian Church, long a Rotarian, and in the early days served terms as head of the Chamber of Commerce.
He was a member of the Masonic Order for more than 50 years, being a Knight Templar and a Shriner. Also he held a life membership in the Crippled Children's Hospital group in St. Louis.
Mr. Kelso never aspired to public office, although he was active politically. Whether true or not it was generally discussed at the time, that he was the only Democrat in Cape Girardeau County to espouse the election of Truman and Smith in 1948. He published large advertisements in district newspapers urging Democrats to stand firm, contending that victory was assured.
Back in 1938 Governor Stark appointed Mr. Kelso a member of the Board of Regents for Southeast Missouri State College and one of the first appointments made by Governor Donnelly was Mr. Kelso for a second term.
Worked to the Last.
Mr. Kelso had been in declining health for some time. Early in October he went to his office in St. Louis and with his assistants worked long and hard on some inter-state commission matters and also on some matters to present to the Missouri Public Service Commission. While in the midst of this intensive work, he was prevailed upon to consult with some leaders in a large bank consolidation, giving these matters serious thought against the warnings of his doctors.
An order called him to appear before the Public Service Commission at Jefferson City and again, against the warnings of his doctors, he made the trip. After concluding his official duties he barely got to a hotel where he rested a few hours and then took the train, reaching St. Louis late that evening.
Not long afterward he had a collapse in the hotel where he and Mrs. Kelso were living and was taken to a hospital. Loss of blood made him so weak he could hardly move and barely remained alive until his death.
Mr. Kelso had for many years suffered from a chronic stomach trouble and most of the time he was a vegetarian. This condition held his weight down and he was very slim, while his father was a large man. Because of this condition he was never physically strong, but seldom was confined by sickness. He had a determination to keep busy. He was an incessant worker and many sought his advice.
A leading lawyer who had known him many years said it always appeared to him that Mr. Kelso was kept busy by people wanting his help and the rest of the time he looked after his own affairs. "However that may be," the lawyer said, "he had no superiors as a counselor."
Many citizens called at The Missourian office to express their regrets that he was not buried in Cape Girardeau. All said he was a wonderful man for Cape Girardeau and that he certainly would be missed. Condolences poured into the Kelso home from many sources
General offices of the Kelso Oil Company, 535 N. Main St., closed at 3 o'clock this afternoon for the period of the funeral service.
Editorial published Friday, Nov. 23, 1951, The Southeast Missourian:
It has been a long time since The Missourian has found it necessary to chronicle the passing of a citizen who has been such a staunch and valuable friend of Cape Girardeau and Southeast Missouri and this newspaper as the one we now evaluate.
I.R. Kelso, popularly known as Judge Kelso, who died in a St. Louis hospital at sundown Wednesday, was an unusual citizen. He moved to Cape Girardeau from Kennett nearly 50 years ago; he arrived here when many citizens felt the town was ruined; just when a life or death struggle for funds to secure a shoe factory was in its most critical stage and without a falter he joined in the drive and didn't stop until it was successfully finished with everlasting credit to the community.
From that time until Nov. 1, 1951, he remained on the job for his town and his own affairs later. And during all this time it will be agreed by those who knew him well, and those who worked shoulder to shoulder with him, that he was never heard to complain or lose faith.
* * *
We can't recall ever having said as much for any other citizen, although there have been others who received deserving community credit in this column. There may be some who will question this evaluation, but we believe only those who did not know Mr. Kelso closely will hesitate a moment to credit his civic account as we do. Mr. Kelso was a quiet, pleasant man who had very few companions. He didn't engage in any sort of recreation with groups of people. He got his recreation through his work and although he was a delicate man physically there seemed to be no end to his mental strength.
Said one of his closest business associates when told of his death: "I don't believe Judge Kelso ever spoke an evil word, or ever spoke an unkind or uncomplimentary word to anyone. He often argued over a man's stand on a public question and certainly had his own opinions on most every subject, but what the other man believed and talked seemed never to make any difference to him. This was his greatest asset in his success."
* * *
Mr. Kelso was a true friend to many persons. He helped many a person and institution out of difficulties and never did he fail to demonstrate that he sought no profit or favors in return. A review of his activities will show this.
As a lawyer in court he was strong. As a counselor he was stronger. He settled most of his legal cases across a desk and no one ever heard him accused of sharp practice.
Probably no lawyer in Cape Girardeau had ore people call for counsel, and so far as is known no one was ever turned down. Years ago the City Council voted him $1,000 for special services. He accepted it with few words and long after it was found that he had given it back with interest. He made his money by advising corporations and business concerns.
* * *
We are sorry Mr. Kelso could not be buried in Cape Girardeau We feel that his place was among his friends here forever. He earned his rest along with such men as Mr. (Louis) Houck, Mr. (W.H.) Harrison, Mr. (M.E.) Leming and one man who is still living.
We join with men throughout the nation who knew him well. May I.R. Kelso rest in peace and reap the joys he so well earned.