Richard “Dick” Kelley, ’60, graduated from Nebraska Business ready to gain on-the-job experience before settling into a long-term career. Fifty-five years later, his decision to help others through financial advising supports countless families and laid the foundation for philanthropic contributions bettering the lives of the Nebraska Business community.
“I wanted to be permanently placed in my career by the time I was 30,” said Kelley, who married his long-time girlfriend Helen Hockabout, ’60, whom he met as a student at Omaha Central High School, just 20 days after graduation. “That was during the Vietnam War, and I didn’t know my draft status. My wife had a job teaching senior honors literature at Omaha Westside High School, so I took the first job I could find.”
He worked at Northern Natural Gas for two years before finding a sales position that better suited his friendly, outgoing nature. He sold advertising for the Omaha Sun Dundee, a local newspaper, to those in the area where he grew up until he and four friends decided to start something of their own.
“I loved selling ads, but I always wanted my own business. We started selling manufactured power humidifiers for forced air furnaces, and I set up a national sales organization. We built them with our wives in a partner’s basement and sold them all over the country through manufacturer reps,” Dick said. “It was a good little business.”
When he and Helen started their family, Dick sold advertising for the minor-league professional Omaha Knights hockey team. As he approached his 30th birthday, his wife suggested he utilize his talents in finance.
“Helen said, ‘You’re investing our money better than the stockbroker we’re using. Why don’t you become a stockbroker?’” said Dick, who thrived as an advisor in a small operation. “I interviewed at 11 financial firms in Omaha and received 11 offers. I did not want to work for a big firm so I took a job with a regional company out of St. Louis. When our small company would eventually get bought out by a major firm, we all quit and opened another regional office.”
Dick officially retires from RBC Wealth Management at the end of 2022, just two days before he turns 85. He made his mark by earning the trust of clients, relating to their needs and conveying a passion for his work.
“When I started in 1968, the market was so active, and they didn’t have big computers. The markets closed at noon, and I would walk up and down the Omaha business community knocking on doors looking for business. Helen and I would drive by businesses, she would write them down for me, and I would call on them with a smile on my face. It was pretty effective,” he said.
One of Dick’s great joys was making money on behalf of clients. Although financial advising changed a lot since the ’60s, his friendly, yet determined attitude never did, and that helped him build a prestigious client base and many great friendships.
He first met Carl Mammel, ’55, a visionary leader shaping the insurance and business landscape, when discussing a position in Mammel’s business. Instead, Mammel decided to work with Dick and his investment firm to identify prospects for his business and handle his investment needs.
“Dick and I are very good friends. I started playing tennis with him five or six days a week. Later, we decided to play golf together weekly,” Mammel said. “My wife and I would ask Dick and his wife to visit our lake home in Alexandra, Minnesota, each summer.”
Years later after establishing a foundation to provide financial support to nonprofit organizations, Mammel asked Dick to join its board and serve as treasurer.
“Dick has been very helpful in helping us manage not only my personal funds, but the funds held by our foundation. We value his advice and have enjoyed continued involvement with him either when fishing, playing golf or helping us manage our funds. Whenever I have needed his help, he has been ‘Johnny on the spot,’ and I always benefit from his advice and service,” said Mammel.
Dick also shared how college helped build a solid foundation for serving his clients. He fondly recalled an insurance course with the late Curt “Doc” Elliott, who was a renowned economist at Nebraska.
“Doc had a sense of humor that made it fun to learn. He was very thorough, and when we walked out of his class, we knew a lot about insurance,” said Dick.
He also learned about ethics and personal responsibility by serving on the student tribunal in college. The experience of serving as chair of the board, “sorting out discipline issues,” taught him a lot about navigating difficult situations.
Amid his many college experiences, he recalled giving his Phi Delta Theta pin to Helen in the fraternity’s pinning ceremony as the best. The couple raised three children – Allyson Baffert, Beth Smith and Richard “Rick” Kelley Jr. – and all three currently live “within 10 minutes” of Dick. Helen succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease in October 2020.
“When you put your fraternity pin on her, you know it means you’re in love, and we were,” said Dick, who was also proud of his wife’s community involvement. “She served on the Westside School Board for 15 years, and even testified in front of the Supreme Court in a case involving Westside Community Schools.”
Dick volunteered with the Omaha Children’s Hospital for 26 years, serving as chair of the board for two years. Dick also shared that he and Helen decided to donate to their alma mater “while living on pennies” just a year after graduation.
Kathy Farrell, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean and professor of finance, said, “Both Helen and Dick have been tremendous advocates for the University of Nebraska. They sent their very first gift soon after graduating when just starting their careers and lives. They also were instrumental in helping us fund Hawks Hall, which benefits our entire Nebraska Business community.”
After retiring in December, the Kelley name will continue at RBC Wealth Management. Rick, who also works at the firm, will take over Dick’s many accounts.
“I’ve loved my financial advising business from the day I started, and I’m still the first person in the office at age 84. I’d encourage all students to get your feet wet. Don’t be afraid to quit a job and try something else until you find what you really want to do for your career and your life,” said Dick.