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 49 years. He retired after thirty-five years of practicing general pediatrics and pediatric hematology-oncology (treatment of blood disorders and cancer) at the Billings Clinic. But now he is back working again! This time he is serving on a per diem basis for a year and treating pediatric cancer patients until a replacement can be found for his position. We have four adult children—Stephen, Matthew, Christopher and Sara and seven grandchildren—Marissa, Ellie, Cody, Iris, Zoe, Ivy Rose and Julian. We are raising two of our grandchildren, ages 12 and 16 so once again we’re trying to understand teenagers!
I was fortunate to be elected to represent HD 47 in the 2015 Legislature. I 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. As a member of the minority party, I was proud to join with moderate Republicans to pass three important pieces of legislation: Medicaid Expansion, Water Compact and Political Contribution Transparency. Like many Montanans, I was disappointed that we were not able to pass an infrastructure bill. I know that 100% of the infrastructure projects throughout the state were needed.
Because I am such an advocate for public education, I was gratified that funding for public education was one of the first bills passed by the 64th Legislature and sent to the Governor for signing. We have finally broken the cycle of funding public education last in the session instead of first!
During the Interim, I am on the 10-Year Study Commission that reviews public school funding and evaluates whether Montana’s children and youth receive an equal opportunity for a quality public education. I regard being on this commission as an important task, especially because this review occurs only once every 10 years.
For more information, please see links to Voting Scorecards.
~Marian Wright Edelman
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Paid for by KELKER for HD 47 – PO Box 20301 – Billings MT 59104-1535 – Phil Cox, Treasurer | Democrat • Montana House District 47