Duluth Councilman Kelly Kelkenberg has died

Kelly Kelkenberg, a longtime member of Duluth City Council, died on Monday. (Courtesy City of Duluth)

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Kelly Kelkenberg, a longtime member of Duluth City Council, died on Monday. (Courtesy City of Duluth)

City officials and residents are mourning the loss of a longtime member of Duluth City Council.

Kelvin J. Kelkenberg, known by Kelly, died on Monday. First elected in 2011, Kelkenberg battled cancer for several years, all while using his military experience to make policy decisions for the Gwinnett city.

“He had a lot of pride, and he was just a really strong leader,” said Mayor Nancy Harris. “I relied on him (for) his experience, trustworthiness and integrity. I’m going to miss him. I know we all are.”

Kelkenberg served in the U.S. Air Force as a colonel. He ended his service with several military awards, including Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation and Air Force Commendation.

He took a job with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and moved to Duluth in 1999 with his family. Officials often sought advice from Kelkenberg during times of crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and Hurricane Irma in 2017, due to his career background.

“With his experience from FEMA, he knew about pandemics, national emergencies and what constitutes a crisis,” Harris said. “It was reassuring for all of us to have a natural leader.”

County Commissioner Kirkland Carden, who served on Duluth City Council before his current role, said Kelkenberg mentored him during his run for public office.

“He will be remembered as a local icon,” Carden said. “He will be remembered as a great father, amazing husband and great mentor... He’ll be remembered for dedicating a good portion of his life to Duluth and Gwinnett County.”

Kelkenberg’s involvement in the Duluth and Gwinnett County communities went beyond his role as a member of City Council. He served on the city’s planning commission, zoning board of appeals, advanced budget committee and the sign committee for the Duluth Fall Festival with his wife, Kimberly.

“We chose Duluth because of its small town feel, diverse population and the quality of schools,” wrote Kelkenberg in his bio posted to the city’s website. “I believe citizens must take an active part in their community in order for it to advance.”

The councilmember, who was in his 70s, also served as president of the Gwinnett Municipal Association in 2020. Carden said he helped county commissioners respond to the pandemic.

“Public service was just who he was; it was in his DNA,” Carden said. “... It’s pretty clear if we look at this guy’s resume — this is a guy that was dedicated to his community and trying to make it a better place.”

At a Tuesday meeting, Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said she became friends with Kelkenberg when they participated in a program together.

“To his family, to the City of Duluth, to his community and to all that loved him, I offer my deepest condolences and let him rest in peace,” said Hendrickson, who lived in Duluth for 10 years.

Kelkenberg was a member of the Air Force Association, Reserve Officers Association, Military Officers Association of America, American Legion Post 251 and the Community Emergency Response Team for Gwinnett County.

Alongside three other City Council posts, Duluth residents will elect someone to fill Kelkenberg’s seat in November. The winner of the special election will finish Kelkenberg’s term that expires in January 2024.

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