The memory of Ryan Kelly will always be remembered at his elementary school alma mater, St. George School.
Shortly after church bells chimed to indicate the 5 o’clock hour on Saturday night, family and friends of Kelly and the St. George community gathered inside the school located at the corner of Edgemont and Venango streets.
With a framed, engraved portrait of Kelly, 21, by forensic artist and Philadelphia police officer Jonny Castro displayed on a table, the group dedicated the eighth-grade classroom in his memory.
The classroom underwent renovations prior to the school year, and the finishing touches were added over Christmas break.
From a new floor and ceiling, to a fresh coat of paint featuring a new color scheme, to refurbished bookshelves, all the updates were made possible thanks to a donation to Friends of St. George from the Kelly family.
The hallway on the first floor was also renovated.
Each year since his death, the Kelly family organizes the Ryan Kelly Memorial Beef and Beer, with proceeds going back to the school.
Kelly was fatally shot on Thanksgiving Day 2015 as he walked from Wawa to his home on the 3500 block of Almond Street in the heart of Port Richmond.
Dr. Joanne Walls commenced the dedication of the classroom with a prayer prior to remarks and letters being shared.
Mike Lorino, president of Friends of St. George, spoke about Kelly’s character.
“The one thing that every person I ever spoke to this kid about said was how quiet and a nice kid he was. This kid, you two, did an awesome job,” said Lorino, looking at Kelly’s parents, Bill and Cathy. “He will never be forgotten. What you’ve done for St. George, we appreciate immensely and we will never be able to repay what you did for us. And, I just wanted to thank you.”
Former principal Dan Markowski sent a letter.
“As part of the graduating class of 2009, Ryan sat in this very room with his classmates learning about Shakespeare, the Catholic church and how to make a true impact on our community,” the letter read. “Ryan did just that, and with the assistance of his family, we have been able to keep his memory alive over the years.”
The partnership between the Kelly family and Friends of St. George has taught “younger generations the importance of giving back, celebrating our past and making St. George a continued source of education,” the letter continued.
Kelly’s former eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Pewdo, sent a letter for the dedication, too, in which she called him “my quiet student with the beautiful smile.”
Kelly’s older brother, William, spoke on behalf of the family amid tears, but offered lighthearted memories.
“On behalf of my brother and I and our entire family, we would like to thank St. George School for dedicating the classroom in his name. This school holds so many great memories for us both,” he said. “Ryan had so many memorable moments, from playing Jesus for Stations of the Cross, not once, but twice, to singing Smash Mouth in the talent show, to playing on the school baseball team. On a side note, I never saw someone in such great shape run the bases so slowly.”
Longtime friend Tim Storino, who also spoke at the candlelight vigil following Kelly’s death, addressed the crowd and also kept a lighthearted tone.
“It’s hard to be back in this room and walk these halls because this is where the bond was first created,” he said. “Coming over from Bridesburg [Elementary], we tried not to hold that against him. But, we were so blessed for [the Kellys] to bring him to this school…words can’t describe his character and how great of a friend he was. And, I just want to thank the Friends of St. George again. It means a lot and I know he would have loved it.”
Storino presented Kelly’s parents with a bouquet of flowers.
Walls then shared thank you letters written by current eighth-grade students before giving them to the Kellys.
“I did not like the old dark floors,” one letter read, which drew smiles and laughter. “The whole vibe of the room has changed because of the new color scheme.”
“We’ll have this [picture] hanging as a reminder. And, I think that’s important for our students to see that we care about the students who go to St. George and we will make sure all our students know we were able to dedicate this classroom to a former student,” Walls added.