I, Mary Jo Kelly Wilhelm, was born in Pittsburgh, PA. My extended Irish family valued stories above all else. Hours were spent listening to my mother's people talk.
The stories from my father were global -- he was an engineer and a Captain in the US Navy. The work took him around the world and he came back with stories. As a child, I longed to know the whole world which he described.
Years passed, and I met a young man who told stories about faraway places. I fell in love with his voice and his stories, having been primed by years of Irish storylistening, to value stories above all else. His ancestry was Hungarian, but he knew the ancient Celtic stories.
I married my Hungarian storyteller. We moved far, far away - to the West Coast. We became the parents of three children with Werdnig-Hoffman Syndrome and they died young. We had to learn to tell a new story.
I became a therapeutic recreator, after studying at San Francisco State University. My work became playing with children. I told stories to sick children in hospital and we journeyed in our imaginations far from the hospital room in the San Francisco Bay Area.
We moved a lot, an alternative to travel. I took juvenile delinquents on journeys into the city of Buffalo and into the woods of the Niagara Frontier. I developed a summer travel program for mentally retarded teenagers and together we challenged the city of San Francisco to accept us. Finally, my work was as a Youth Minister at a small fishing village. We took trips to Seattle and to Mt. Ranier and to the inlets and bays of the Puget Sound. During each of these employments, I taught courses at the local colleges and joined local boards whose concerns were recreation and children.
At this time, I entered the Ph.D. program at the University of Maryland. I discovered qualitative research, where one listens and observes the stories of people to discover a truth. My teachers, especially Dr. Daniel Huden and the late Dr. Fred Humphrey , guided me as I studied recreation and leisure, education and therapeutics, qualitative and quantitative research methodology, travel and tourism. My dissertation, titled "Journeys: The Dynamics of Specialty Travel Tourists to Ireland" was a qualitative study about the meaning of travel in the modern world.
This love of stories, people and travel has culminated in a vision which found its expression in Storyfest Journeys. My storytelling husband and I lead groups of people to the Celtic lands of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Galicia (Celtic Spain). We plan the programs, making all the local arrangements, contacting hotels, bus companies, tourism offices, art centers, national and regional parks, and historical societies. Then we advertise and market the program in English-speaking countries. Finally we ourselves personally lead these groups to Celtic lands. There we tell them stories, at the sites where the stories originated.
I am always listening, observing and recording, using my skills in qualitative research methodology. This has resulted in the publication of books and articles in Storyfest Journal. I tell about the sites and the sights, restaurants and recipes, hotels and lodgings, the landscape and skyscape, the flowers, birds, and animals. Most especially, I listen to people and tell some of the stories I hear on the road.
My current research concerns the life of my father, Captain Joseph Paul Kelly, USNR. He was the Father of our family and he was also the Father of CAESAR, the anti-submarine warfare system that was developed after the Hartwell report in 1950 indicated the need for a system to detect enemy submarines. It became known as SOSUS later on. Captain Joseph Paul Kelly's work was Top Secret for many years.
My father was a remarkable man in many ways, skilled not only in engineering, but also in storytelling, personal relationships, and possessed of high moral integrity. This will be the story of a warrior whose life was dedicated to his God and to his country. I want to write the story of his life so that his wit, intelligence and accomplishments will be known, because in life he humbly kept them to himself. The Life of Joe Kelly, Warrior is now available in a new edition as an eBook. (See the sidebar.)