March 17, 2004 - Detroit Free Press: Douglass Kelley served as the first national community relations director for the Peace Corps and lived for several years in West Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Cameroon: Peace Corps Cameroon: The Peace Corps in Cameroon: March 17, 2004 - Detroit Free Press: Douglass Kelley served as the first national community relations director for the Peace Corps and lived for several years in West Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer.

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Douglass Kelley served as the first national community relations director for the Peace Corps and lived for several years in West Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Douglass Kelley served as the first national community relations director for the Peace Corps and lived for several years in West Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer.

BUTTONS, BUSTS & A BUTTERFLY BALLOT: Ann Arbor political junkie Douglas Kelley has collected enough election memorabilia to fill a museum

March 17, 2004



Caption: Douglas Kelley campaigns for John Kerry in Ann Arbor. At right is his friend Jean Ledwith King, a veteran women's rights activist.

A person with a passion for politics never really retires. That's how it is for Douglas Kelley, who, at 74, remains fascinated by the race for the White House.

Over the decades, Kelley has collected thousands of pieces of political memorabilia on Democrats who've run for president: buttons, posters, bumper stickers, ceramic busts and more that he stores in a small building next to his Ann Arbor home.

He's got a butterfly ballot and IBM Votomatic punch-card machine from Florida, which caused so much confusion in the 2000 election.

He's got a giant Woodrow Wilson cigar and a pipe carved to look like John F. Kennedy.

He's got a Jimmy Carter peanut lamp, a skirt with felt donkeysfrom the 1956 convention that nominated Adlai Stevenson and an entire bathroom covered floor to ceiling in Harry Truman stuff.

Got some LBJ buttons or Reagan posters in the attic and want to learn more about political collecting?

A good starting point is American Political Items Collectors, a nonprofit group for those interested in studying and preserving materials related to U.S. campaigns.

The group holds national and regional meetings and publishes a journal and newsletter. A regular annual membership is $28; an affiliate membership is $8.

Upcoming is the 37th Annual Michigan Spring Political Show. It's May 8 at the Doubletree Hotel at Metro Airport. The show draws buyers and sellers of political items from across the region.

For more information on APIC, go to or call 301-926-7648.

By Julie Hinds

A while back, Kelley made a deal with the folks at Jimmy Carter's presidential library and museum in Atlanta. If they would pay for a U-Haul, he'd provide the gas and drive down an outdated Ann Arbor voting machine he'd bought for $10. It displayed the Carter-Mondale and Reagan-Bush tickets from the 1980 presidential election.

"In the course of the weekend, when I had my first chance to chat with President Carter, I said, 'I would have preferred to bring a machine from 1976, when, of course, you won. But I do want you to know you carried Ann Arbor in 1980,' " he recalls.

Kelley dreams of creating a museum one day to hold his collection.

If that doesn't work out, maybe John Kerry will win the 2004 election and he'll want a nice, ready-made exhibit for for his future presidential library.

Whatever happens, Kelley wants his memorabilia to stay together as a celebration of the Democratic Party.

Sure, he owns some things connected to Abraham Lincoln, who was a Republican. But his only real brush with the GOP was 60 years ago, back when he was a 15-year-old Western Union messenger at the 1944 Republican National Convention.

As he shares this fact, Kelley pauses for a moment. He's wearing a John Kerry button on his blue sweater vest and sitting near a plate of the "Kerry cookies" his wife has been making for local campaign efforts.

"Usually, when I tell this story, I raise my hand and I say, 'I swear I haven't done a thing for the Republicans ever since.' " he says, his eyes twinkling.

Saying that Kelley is a die-hard Democrat is sort of like calling the grass green or the sky blue. It's what comes naturally to him.

Currently, he cochairs the Washtenaw County Volunteers for John Kerry, one of the most active local Kerry groups in the state. He's also secretary of the Washtenaw County Democratic Committee. "Doug runs circles around me," says Jeff Irwin, 26, a Washtenaw County commissioner and Kelley's cochair for the Kerry volunteers. "He's a dynamo. He's an amazing guy. Over the course of the past year, I've developed a real respect and admiration for him."

This is Kelley's idea of taking it easy. Fourteen years ago, he retired from the University of Michigan-Flint, where he was director of extension and continuing education. He felt it was time to give up the long commute from Ann Arbor to Flint, a drive he rated in the winter by how many cars he spotted in the ditch.

"Six cars in the ditch was only a moderately bad day," he recalls.

It was time, too, to put a cap on a 40-year career in public affairs and education. He'd done many interesting things, from serving in the Kennedy administration as the first national community relations director for the Peace Corps to living several years in West Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer.

He also had earned a proud footnote in history for organizing the International Development Placement Association in 1951, a Peace Corps precursor devoted to sending young American volunteers to work in underdeveloped countries.

Kelley vividly remembers going to the Ford Foundation at age 22 to pitch his concept, only to be given the cold shoulder.

"At the end of my 45 minutes with the program officer, he shook his head and he said, 'There aren't enough young Americans who want to do that kind of thing.' I wish I had had a tape recorder, because those words are just emblazoned on my soul."

But the story had a happy ending. Kelley and his colleagues at the group were able to get the concept up and running and send 18 men and women abroad. Although the group folded after a few years, it stayed alive as an idea that eventually resulted in the founding of the Peace Corps in 1961.

But back to Kelley's retirement. Quitting work gave him the freedom to do as he pleased, which meant immersing himself in political activism and collecting.

He'd put aside memorabilia casually since he was a teenager, but he got serious in the 1980s and joined American Political Items Collectors, a national association that holds regular conventions.

By the mid-1990s, his collection had grown so much that he was renting a room from a neighbor to store part of it. At that point, his wife, Mary, who'd made some wise investments in the stock market, told him he needed a building and offered to pay for it.

Thanks to his wife, he now oversees what he calls the Democratic Archive from a snug studio on his property. It's home to his items on famous Democratic presidential candidates, as well as materials on women in U.S. politics and African Americans in politics.

Although the archive isn't open to the public, Kelley occasionally holds local Democratic events there and gives tours to historians and senior citizen groups.

Inside, one wall is devoted to candidates from 1968, the turbulent year that marked the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. There's a "Sock it to 'em Bobby!" bumper sticker and a Eugene McCarthy flower power poster. One eye-catching relic, a poster of a pregnant African-American woman wearing a "Nixon's the One" button, captures the era's "Laugh-In"-style lacerating humor.

The opposite wall is a tribute to Democrats who won their party's nomination but never made it to the White House. One poster leaps out from the rest: a relaxed, happy Michael Dukakis tossing a baseball with the slogan "A New Season. A New Leader."

It's hard to take everything in with just a glance.

"The upstairs is so jammed with stuff, I can't take visitors up there until it gets better organized," Kelley says.

The most charming section is probably the Harry Truman bathroom, where Kelley points out a rare photo of a smiling Bess Truman, who's looking pleased because her husband has announced he's not running for re-election.

"Fortunately, it's a half bath, so there isn't a shower to dampen the collectibles," he says.

Kelley hopes eventually to find contributors for a Museum of Democratic Leadership to be located near other tourist attractions in Michigan.

"I would love to see it called the Williams-Hart-Levin Museum of Democratic Leadership," he says, for a quartet of Michigan Democrats: Gov. G. Mennen Williams, U.S. Sen. Philip Hart, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin. Unlike some collectors, he doesn't focus on the rarest or most expensive items. Instead, he looks for things that capture a piece of history or have special meaning for him.

Some of his most prized possessions are the ones with personal significance, such as the "Another Veteran for Kerry" sign he made at his kitchen table and carried this January in New Hampshire.

Kelley, who served two years in the Army, has also stumped for Kerry in Iowa and Ohio.

In February, the candidate's brother, Cameron Kerry, gave Kelley a button at the Kerry victory party after the Michigan caucuses. It reads "4JKB4IA," short for 'For John Kerry Before Iowa.' "

Not every Democrat could wear one of those. It's what you'd call a collector's item.

Contact JULIE HINDS at 313-222-6427 or

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Story Source: Detroit Free Press

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; History; COS - Cameroon



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