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Sondi Sepenukk
Edition: 7/31/2009


It just may be that Kelley Nelson, nee Kelley Salmon, has been swimming upstream her entire life.

The current president of the historic Ebell Club of Los Angeles, Kelley is a long way from where she started. She grew up on the picturesque farmlands of Union Island in the San Joaquin Valley, a member of one of the 10 oldest farming families in the valley. Kelley laughs at the grief she constantly receives from her family for moving down to urban Los Angeles. “I always laugh and tell my family, ‘Yes, I became a traitor! But I’m really a spy for Northern California!’”

While everyone else in her family played instruments, Kelley focused on dance and soon won a scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet at age 13. Then, her high school’s computer made a mistake and dumped her into a theatre class. The combination of the two activities made Kelley realize that she loved to perform, so she set her sights on Pepperdine University’s theatre department.

After starring in productions such as “The Pajama Game,” playing the lead role of Babe opposite John Raitt (who originated the role of Sid Sorokin on Broadway), working with Debbie Reynolds and starring in her own one-woman show, Kelley ultimately moved into teaching and into the city of Los Angeles.

She eventually met and married Bill Nelson, and moved into Hancock Park. The couple has two young daughters, Lily and Grace.

Then, in the year 2000, Kelley became a member of the Ebell.

“The most powerful word in the English language is ‘YES,’” declares Kelley. “It immediately commits you to unexpected journeys—and it gets me into a lot of trouble!” she laughs.

After joining the Ebell, Kelley was asked to chair the Christmas Ball. She said “yes.” She was asked to chair the Charter Day event. She said “yes.” She was invited to run for a board position as the Ebell’s Public Relations Chair, and of course, she said “yes.” Next up came a two-year stint as vice president, and then in 2008 she was elected to the two-year term of president. Kelley considers the Ebell her “third child.”

“I consider my role to be a guardian of the history of the Ebell… it’s critical to embrace the women who have brought the Ebell through the Depression, natural disasters, financial debacles… As a member you sort of take a pledge to preserve the Ebell and to continue its legacy.”

Though the Ebell is steeped in tradition, it is Kelley’s goal as president to move it into the future. “I have such respect for tradition, and yet I’m a woman who lives in ‘today,’ and I hope that I’m a good bridge from the past to the current.”

Two of the Ebell’s crowning jewels of achievement involve The Rest Cottage Association, which helps local women in need, and the scholarship program, which awards over 70 scholarships to local men and women.

In addition, Kelley’s existing goals for the Ebell involve obtaining grants, establishing an endowment, and being more environmentally sensitive, just to name a few.

“Lots of things are difficult to attain in two years, and my goals are long term, but if I can start the ground work, I’ll be pleased.”

It’s also very important to Kelley to share this experience with her two daughters. “I want them to go through their childhood understanding about volunteering. I like to bring my children to the Ebell and explain to them what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. It gets them thinking of the needs of others.”

To that effect, she is also trying to bring more young women into the membership. “There’s something for everybody. Young women, mothers, retirees… I want to engage all of the membership.”

When Kelley’s tenure at the Ebell is completed, what will she do next? “I want to continue to do something in a charitable way to help my fellow man and to focus on giving children the ability to do that, too.”

As she continues upstream, one would gather that there are an infinite number of "yes’s" still in Kelley’s future.