My story goes like this. After high school I hadn’t thought much about my future but was ready for adventure. I packed up my few belongings and left Canton,Ohio, with $500 in my pocket, a full tank of gas in my truck, and a determination to make my own way. Little did I know that my journey to Texas would lead to my destiny. In 1982, while working out at a local gym in Houston, Texas, I met, now Football Hall of Famer, Earl Campbell. We struck up a casual conversation and due to my stature, Earl thought I played college football so he asked, “where do you play?” Replying “nowhere,” he surprisingly set a time for me to meet with Fred Akers, his former head coach at the University of Texas. Through that chance of a lifetime experience, this Ohio boy found himself with a full ride to Baylor University playing football for head coach, Grant Teaff.
Because of Coach Teaff’s leadership and a heart for his players, three things happened that changed the course of my life. First, while attending a church service with the football team, I walked down the aisle in front of my teammates and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. Secondly, I met my future wife, Terry Ann, I call her “Smalls.” And lastly in 1986 I received a college degree, an achievement I never dreamed possible.
Why the Leather Business? In 1990 I was given a great opportunity as a sales associate with the John G. Mahler company, who at that time was the largest distributor of ostrich and other exotic leathers to the cowboy boot industry in the U.S. and Mexico market. That’s where it all began. Not long after that it was time to put my entrepreneurial skills to the test. The Kelly Leather Company was founded in 1997 and I began importing exotic leather from Zimbabwe and South Africa. Later, merging with a competitor, together we once again became the main supplier of exotic leather to the cowboy boot industry.
Tired of traveling, in 2017 I sold my half of the company, moved to Waco to recapture that sense of community that changed my life so many years ago. I started a unique new business called City-Ranch Boot Company while still maintaining relationships with suppliers of fine leather from Zimbabwe and South Africa.
I met and married “Smalls” who like me, and four of our five children also graduated from Baylor and then taught at the university for a short time. Our oldest boy, Clay, wandered off to Texas A&M where he learned great leadership skills and now works in the oil and gas industry. Clay met his wife Ally in Waco while attending a Baylor football game.She was a former Baylor cheerleader and soon captured Clay’s heart. They have two little boys and live in Houston. Clint and Chad, the two youngest Kelly brothers, received their business degrees while playing football for BU and now have promising sales jobs in Dallas and Houston.
Another reason Terry Ann and I chose to be back in Waco is because the two other Kelly kids, Katelin and our middle son Colt have also made Waco their forever community. Colt is a commercial realtor with Kelly Realtor and his wife Sarah, teaches at Live Oak, a college preparatory school in town. Our daughter, Katelin Houck and her husband, also named Colt, and their two young daughters are here too. Colt Houck works for his three generation Waco family business, Westview Nursery. Katelin is a stay-at-home mom and Mary Kay consultant.
The Jay Kelly family has a 40 year history in Waco and by the looks of it, a great future. I enjoy the cowboy boot and leather industry. What I know for sure is that I want to further the Texas tradition and experience of owning a well-made pair of boots that reflects who you are and will stand the test of time .