Beloved Milwaukee chef Gus Kelly dies at 76

Posted at 9:51 PM, Sep 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-28 23:29:13-04

MILWAUKEE -- A well-known Milwaukee chef died Wednesday morning after a four year battle with cancer. Gus Kelly was famous for his BBQ at Summerfest and his selfless work with the Salvation Army.

Born in 1940, Kelly worked his way up from a migrant farm worker to an executive chef.

Education was so important to him, he kept small, tattered cards in his wallet that showed his college degrees.

"That was a hot one for him," said his daughter Veronica Kelly. "Go to school, go to school, he told all of us that."

Veronica and her sister Chanin Kelly-Rae remember their father fondly, as a strong, southern gentleman who taught them to work hard and serve others.

"To honor his legacy, I think just remembering his spirit of giving and community and bringing people of all walks of life together," said Kelly-Rae.

Gus Kelly was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2012. That same year, he retired from serving as the executive chef at the Salvation Army's Christmas Family Feast.

His daughters say he loved serving that meal every year and firmly believed food could bridge any divide.

"He looked at it as an opportunity for people who were rich or poor, or who had jobs, without jobs, black or white, from anywhere in the city to come together and break bread together and build community together," said Kelly-Rae.

She said they knew his cancer was terminal, but they were thankful to have four years with him following his diagnosis.

"I was actually there with him when he took his last breath," said Veronica Kelly. "It was a very, very difficult thing to reconcile in my mind but at the same time he suffered with cancer...I am happy that he is no longer suffering."

At one point, Gus Kelly owned a restaurant on North Avenue called Magnolia's. He also served as an associate dean at the Milwaukee Area Technical College. And through all of his professional and volunteer work, his daughters say many people saw him as a father.

And his children were proud to call him dad.

"This is where his heart was," said Kelly-Rae. "He loved Milwaukee, he loved the state of Wisconsin and he loved all of its people."