Three weeks ago, friends and family gathered outdoors at Olympia High School and held a vigil for Austin Kelley — the Olympia High School and Saint Martin’s University graduate who went missing and drowned in an Idaho river on Sept. 4.
On Sunday, about 1,000 of them gathered again at Saint Martin’s University’s Marcus Pavilion to say goodbye after Kelley’s body was found Sept. 15. And as happened at the vigil, Nisqually tribal member Melvin Blacketer’s voice and drum filled the gymnasium before others stepped forward to remember Kelley as a son-in-law, grandson, son and friend.
Kelley, 26, was known as an avid soccer player. He played at Olympia High School and at Saint Martin’s and later worked as an assistant soccer coach at the same high school. He also studied engineering at Saint Martin’s and worked locally in the field.
Father-in-law Jerod Ross said that Kelley “remains a bright star who will forever burn in our hearts and minds.” He added that Kelley was one of the most gifted athletes he had ever seen, calling him an “absolute beast on the soccer field.”
“The size of the crowd does not surprise me at all,” said Kelley’s grandfather Glenn Green after he took the stage.
Green recalled a moving anecdote about his grandson.
During his days on the Olympia High School soccer team, Kelley was once asked to make an important penalty kick in a playoff game. The kick was ultimately stopped by the goalie and they lost the game. But Kelly returned that night to the pitch, hopped the fence and practiced his penalty kick, making 100 shots. He later slept on the field.
“This was just one of the countless examples of his character,” Green said.
There were moments of humor, too. Green, indirectly influenced by his grandson to quit smoking, later learned that Kelley liked to smoke cigars with his father-in-law.
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened,” said Green, quoting Theodor Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss.
Kelley’s mother, Cortney, too, found a moment of humor.
She turned to her daughter-in-law, Morgan, and said that Austin had found a soulmate.
“You both share a quiet determination, a love of friends and family, a passion for travel and adventure and an affinity for Excel spreadsheets,” she said.
“We are lost and paralyzed without you,” Cortney Kelley said about her son. “Yet the magic, kindness and the inspiration you planted will move forward in the minds, hearts and actions of all of us. … If you met him, you loved him.”