Idaho State University Geosciences student Josh Kelly to receive posthumous degree; His father Terrell and service dog Cletus will walk at commencement
Posted May 7, 2014
Cletus, a service dog, will be there again for his master Joshua Kelly at Idaho State University commencement May 10.
This time, however, he will be at ISU in his master’s absence. Kelly, who had epilepsy and suffered from scores of seizures during his lifetime, succumbed to the disease in mid February during what would have been his final semester at ISU. The University is honoring Josh with a posthumous degree. Along with the other 2,450 graduates earning 2,537 degrees, Josh’s father, Terrell Kelly of Island Park, and Cletus will walk in the commencement ceremony to accept Josh’s degree as many of the rest of his family are in attendance.
“We’re very, very excited,” Terrell said. “Josh worked for years trying to earn this degree and he was in his last semester. Cletus went to all those classes, too, so he probably deserves half that degree.”
Josh, who died at the age of 38, started as a part-time student at ISU working to put himself through school. As his epilepsy worsened, he eventually applied for and received disability from the federal government and then was able to attend ISU full time the last several years.
Cletus, a black pit bull, accompanied Josh on weekdays when the geosciences major walked from his home to catch the bus at 6:30 a.m. from Idaho Falls to the ISU Pocatello campus. They commuted to and attended class together for years at ISU.
“He walked almost two miles every morning and evening to catch that bus in Idaho Falls, regardless of the weather,” said Terrell, Josh’s father. “His education was extremely important to him. He became my hero. I thought it was really amazing how committed he was to his education despite everything he faced.”
Cletus was also there many times when Kelly suffered grand mal seizures at home and in public, sticking by his master, barking and creating attention until help could arrive, including when these episodes happened when Josh was on the way to the bus.
“We’re exceptionally grateful to the Idaho Falls EMS and police department,” Terrell said. “Many times on the way to the bus Josh would have a seizure, and he’d call and we wouldn’t know exactly where he was but Cletus would bark and cause a commotion until someone would come. I don’t know how many times Cletus saved his life.”
“I think it is wonderful that the University is granting him a degree,” said Lynne Kelly, Josh’s mother. “During that last semester he was having a difficult time with his memory because of the seizures, which made it especially hard for math classes. He had brain surgery, nerve stimulations, and he was on medications, but nothing stopped the seizures. He continued to a have a grand mal every month, and would end up missing a couple of days of classes after each one.
“He was taking calculus II for the third or fourth time around,” Lynne continued, “but was so excited that he was going to graduate, after passing a test early in the semester.”
Josh made a strong impression on many of his colleagues at ISU, including faculty, staff and students, many of whom remarked how friendly he was and that he was a mainstay in the ISU geosciences department, where the department’s kitchen facility will be named Josh Kelly Kitchen and its undergraduate study room will be named Cletus’s Corner.
“What really struck me about Josh was that he was a very hard-working person and super reliable,” said Leif Tapanila, chair of the ISU geosciences department, who taught Josh in classes and also supervised him as a part-time employee in a geosciences lab. “If you gave him a task he would get it done. He was a real stand-up guy. For a person with the challenges that were put before him, he always faced the day with a smile, a laugh and a joke, worked really hard at his studies and did well.”
One of his classmates, Katherine Ware of Pocatello a senior geosciences major who will be graduating in December, said she got to know Kelly well during her time at ISU.
“We had classes together, studied together, went on field trips and hung out beyond school,” Ware said. “I said good-bye to him on a Friday, and Monday morning I got the email. I took it really hard. It was getting to the point where he was missing classes more and more, but I didn’t put it together that it was so life threatening. He always put on a brave face and a nice smile.”
That smile will be remembered at ISU’s commencement, as well as the generosity and goodwill Kelly shared at the University.
“The geosciences department was like family to him,” Terrell said. “The entire department deserves our praise. We appreciate them – the faculty, department heads, administrative assistants and the students themselves were there for Josh.
“The ADA was phenomenal in assisting him, too, and the faculty throughout campus were wonderful to work with,” Terrell continued, “and we received a nice letter from the president after Josh died. We appreciate all ISU did for our son.”
And don’t worry about Cletus. He’s being taken care of by Josh’s parents, and will be walking in the ceremony and will be recognized by many.
“A lot of people don’t know Josh, but they all know Cletus,” Lynne said.
Thousands more will be introduced to him at ISU Commencement May 10, starting at 10 a.m. in Holt Arena.