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McKelvey Park a tribute to Miller's ‘Coach’ (with photo gallery and audio)

BRADENTON

Chances are a lot of people didn’t know Bob McKelvey had a real first name the 38 years he taught physical education at Jessie P. Miller Elementary School.

“Coach McKelvey” is how everybody knew him.

Principals.

Parents.

Students.

“He was always ‘Coach McKelvey,’” said Chuck Banks, a former Miller principal for 15 years.

The guest of honor agreed.

“It’s true,” McKelvey said Tuesday. “I got a new name today.”

A lot of love, respect and a beautiful park to go with it, too.

McKelvey Park, the school’s north four acres with trees, picnic benches and a fitness trail that faces Manatee Avenue West, was dedicated by school officials with a spirited outdoor assembly in honor of the beloved 74-year-old Lansdowne, Pa., native.

“If anyone deserves this, it’s Coach McKelvey,” said Manatee County School Board member Barbara Harvey, Miller’s principal from 1980 to 1990. “This school has a rich family history and he was the fabric.”

McKelvey retired a decade ago, but he was clearly moved by the celebration.

Once more children’s laughter and chatter made the kind of music he heard on Miller’s fields for nearly four decades.

“It’s a big surprise, a big honor, too,” McKelvey said. “It’s always been a great school. I had chances to go other places, but no way. That’s because of the staff, the kids, the facility.”

The Miller he worked at and held fundraisers for is gone, replaced by a modern structure in August 2007.

Yet his fondness for it remains.

“Looking back, I don’t regret a day of it,” McKelvey said. “I’d do it again if I was able. I enjoyed it. I fulfilled my desire in life to teach, to work with children, to see them grow — and I grew along with it.”

Downey Walz is one of his former pupils.

Three of her five children attend Miller. A fourth will start next fall. A fifth, newborn Savannah, will likely go there, too.

She was among the many who endorsed naming the park.

“Coach McKelvey showed a genuine love and care for the kids,” said Walz, 35. “I gave the usual excuses kids would use to get out of PE and he would lovingly say, ‘Go run around that field. Give me another lap.’ We just loved him. It wasn’t work. He made it fun. He pushed us to do the very best we could.”

That McKelvey did so for 38 years is a testament.

“Just the fact he persevered for that long is a tribute, a legacy in itself,” Chuck Banks said. “It’s something you don’t see anymore. He provided every child in this community an opportunity to not only to learn, but to be a part of something in the community.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, Fl. 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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