Francis "Joe" Kelly Jr.

1955 ~ 2020 (age 64)


Francis Joseph “Joe” Kelly, Jr., of Eaton Rapids, 

Passed away unexpectedly at the age of 64, on Thursday, May 28, 2020, after complications following recent surgery. Joe was born November 17, 1955 in Lansing, Michigan, to Francis J. Kelly, Sr., and Margaret (Martin) Kelly. He graduated from Michigan State University in 1977, with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and a minor in history. He met the love of his life, Mary Ellen Wackerly, in their first-grade class at Holy Cross School. They were in school together through 9th grade, but it wasn’t until their adult years that they became best friends. Joe and Mary married in 1983 and that love lasted for 36 years. Joe was a devoted family man, and his 2 girls, Katie and Megan, meant everything to him. There was not a day that went by when he didn’t send them a message just to make them smile and ask them to text when they got home so he knew they were safe. He took every opportunity he could to tell them (and everyone else) how proud he was of his family. They were all proud of him too. Joe had a lifelong career in law enforcement. He loved helping people through his job. He was a founding member of the Eaton Rapids Police Department. He retired from there as sergeant after 25 years of service. During that time, he received two commendations for saving lives, delivered two babies, taught hundreds of students in the D.A.R.E. program and annual Safety Town program, and solved the only murder in Eaton Rapids history, among many other accomplishments. He was a firearms instructor, CPR and first aid instructor, served on a school defense taskforce, and was a member of the Fraternal Order of Police. Upon his retirement, he received a Special Tribute from Governor Granholm honoring his years of service. He was never one to sit still, so the day he retired from Eaton Rapids he began working as a special deputy for the Eaton County Sheriff’s Department, providing courthouse security. He worked there for an additional 11 years. His years of police work left him with many hilarious stories that he loved to share. Joe lived a life of community service. He was an active member of the Knights of Columbus for 46 years, first at Richard Council 788 and later at Eaton Rapids Council 6534, and served as an officer at the local, regional, and state levels. He was also a member of the Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus Bishop Albers Assembly 0496. Joe developed many close friendships through his service as a Knight. He was an avid Michigan State University Spartans fan. He held season football tickets for 36 years and watched every MSU sporting event he could find on television. Joe was rarely seen without some sort of MSU apparel, usually a baseball cap.  

He was preceded in death by his parents and his brothers-in-law, Ray Will, Mike Hermes, and Richard Ludman. He is survived by his wife, Mary Ellen; daughters, Katie and Megan (Kyle Palumbo); brother, Phil (Jackie) Kelly; sisters, Karen (Wayne) Casler, Margaret Minich, and Kathy (Jim) McEwan; sisters-in-law, Marilyn Ludman and Martha Hermes; countless nieces and nephews; and his canine buddy, Lily.  

The family has planned a private service. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that memorial contributions be made to The Sgt. F. Joseph Kelly, Jr. Memorial Scholarship at Michigan State University, add The Sgt. F. Joseph Kelly, Jr. Memorial Scholarship to the search box, and click the “Add To Cart” button to make an online donation. Checks may be made payable to Michigan State University. Please add “Fund AF010222” on the memo line of the check, and send to: University Advancement, 535 Chestnut Street, Room 300, East Lansing, MI 48824-1005. Arrangements were entrusted to the Mills Funeral Home, Shelly-Odell Chapel in Eaton Rapids. Please share online condolences on our website,

  • An Irish Blessing May the road rise to meet you May the wind be always at your back The sunshine warm upon your face The rain fall soft upon your fields And until we meet again  May God hold you in the hollow of his hand 


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