Since our family moved to Billings in 1978, I have been actively involved in the community, serving 15 years on the Billings School Board and participating in United Way, the Billings Strategic Plan, the All America Cities Award Committee, Billings Clinic Foundation, St. John’s Lutheran Ministries and Family Promise (Interfaith Hospitality Network). I have learned so much from being involved in these community-building activities! My personal focus in all of those years has been on the welfare of children and families. My own family has enjoyed the economic, educational, cultural and recreational opportunities that Billings affords, and these experiences have made me believe we have something precious in Montana that deserves to be preserved and sustained. My personal commitment is to “paying forward” and contributing what I can to making Montana an even better place for people to live and grow.
I grew up in the small Ohio town of Chagrin Falls (population 3,500). My father had a printing/advertising business located right on the main street next to the actual Chagrin Falls, and my mother taught high school English, French and Home Economics. Both of my parents were very active in the community and our church, and they modeled that commitment for us three children. My early years in a small town provided me with a stable, nurturing childhood with close connections to a wide variety of people, including my adopted brother Gaffar who joined our family as a foreign exchange student from Cambodia and became my second brother. As a first grader I contracted polio. This event deeply affected me; I saw other children suffering in the rehabilitation hospital and knew that some of them died. I was grateful that my case of polio was a lighter one, but having polio made me a serious child—well aware that life brought both joy and pain.
I always wanted to grow up to be a teacher. I was the classical kid who played school and coerced my younger siblings and the neighborhood children to be the pupils. I loved babysitting, teaching Sunday school, giving swimming lessons, and being a camp counselor. After high school, I attended Hiram College, a small liberal arts school, where my parents had gone and where I met my future husband Paul Kelker. Not surprisingly, I graduated with a degree in English and taught high school and college English while putting my husband through medical school. As my husband continued his medical education with an internship, residency and fellowship, I had various teaching positions ranging from preschool and kindergarten to fourth grade science, Upward Bound and college English. While teaching at these different levels, I fell in love with children and youth with special needs and earned a Master’s Degree in special education. With that degree, I became a Resource Teacher and then a traveling Special Education Consultant Teacher. My next position grew out of my experiences in special education. A friend with a daughter with severe disabilities and I founded a non-profit called Parents, Let’s Unite for Kids (PLUK). Its purpose was to provide information and support for children with disabilities and their families. From a small project begun at my friend’s kitchen table on the southside in Billings, PLUK grew to become a thriving statewide organization. I was its Executive Director for 16 years. Then, I earned my doctorate in Adult and Higher Education (Special Education Concentration) and went back into teaching as an Assistant Professor of Special Education at MSU-Billings. After retiring from the university, I got the best job I ever had as the Executive Director of Head Start, Inc. with 105 employees and a budget of over $3 million. At Head Start I saw what a huge difference high quality early education makes in the lives of preschoolers and their families. Every day with those children and families was a pleasure. I retired from Head Start in May 2014. Currently I am working as a Coordinator of Shared Ministry at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd.
My husband Paul and I have been married for 51 years. He retired after thirty-nine years of practicing general pediatrics and pediatric hematology-oncology (treatment of blood disorders and cancer) at the Billings Clinic. We have four adult children—Stephen (Kristin), Matthew (Julie) , Christopher and Sara (Ron) and seven grandchildren—Marissa, Ellie, Cody, Iris, Zoe, Ivy Rose and Julian.
I have been fortunate to be elected to represent HD 47 in two legislative session—2015 and 2017. I have loved my opportunity to serve. At first it was overwhelming—there was so much to learn! But I got into the swing of things and became fascinated by the issues before us. In the last session, I served on the Judiciary, Human Services and Local Government Committees. I carried 16 bills related to public education, health, human services, and local government. The list below shows the bills I carried.
Bill Number Short Title
HB 31 Revise school funding related to special education
HB 32 Revise school funding related to special education
HB 33 Revise school funding related to special education
HB 116 Increase funding for gifted and talented education
HB 274 Allow ANB funding for students with disabilities up to age 22
HB 292 Revise school funding laws related to inflation and 6th grade per-ANB
HB 293 Revise requirements related to release of immunization information
HB 303* Create child abuse and neglect review commission
HB 307* Create statutory appropriation for radioactive waste account
HB 463 Prohibit chronically incapacitated substance abuse in public places
HB 563 Establishing Montana preschool grant program
HJ 1 Request study of funding for education programs for special needs students
HJ 20* Interim study of transparency in health care pricing
HJ 27 Requesting interim study of MUS governance structure
HJ 29 Interim study of landlord tenant laws
HJ 41 Interim study of DOC facilities and community corrections programs
* Indicates bills that passed.
Passing only three bills doesn’t appear to be a good record, but in the 65th Session no bills that cost new money were passed because of budget shortfalls. I felt quite pleased to get three important bills across the finish line.
During the Interim, I am serving on the Child and Family Health and Human Services Committee (CFHHS). I am chairing a subcommittee of CFHHS that is studying transparency in healthcare transparency.
~Marian Wright Edelman
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Paid for by KELKER for HD 47 – PO Box 20254 – Billings MT 59104-1535 – Phil Cox, Treasurer | Democrat • Montana House District 47