John Lester Kelsey, founder of antique and classic tire distributor Kelsey Tire Inc. and a 2009 inductee into the Tire Industry Hall of Fame, died Sept. 17. He was 79. Born in Rochester, Minn., Kelsey attended Camdenton High School and the University of Missouri’s College of Arts and Science. Drafted into the Army on April 8, 1967, he served in the 82nd Airborne during the Vietnam War. He left the Army in May 1969 with several medals including the Bronze Star, National Defense Service, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign, Army Commendation and Good Conduct.
Following his discharge from the Army, Kelsey started selling tires and later opened a garage-operated business in what is now Kelsey Tire headquarters. The business continued into the early 1980s when Kelsey closed the mechanic shop and turned his focus to the manufacturing and distribution of Goodyear classic and antique tires.
Kelsey Tire became the exclusive authorized distributor of Goodyear antique and classic tires for vehicles from the 1920s through the 1980s. He was well-known throughout the tire industry for his knowledge and dedication to the production of antique tires.
Kelsey told Tire Review that one of the challenges for manufacturers of classic tires is that many of the original molds were destroyed many years ago. To solve this, Kelsey would create new molds from the original drawings of the original tire designs.
“What we thoroughly enjoy is doing the research and making sure that the tire is brought back exactly the way it was,” John explained. “If it was nylon originally and nylon only, then that’s the way it is today. All of the external optics of the tire have to be exact, as well as the internal construction.”
Modern materials are used to create these new “old” tires. Some changes are made through chemistry (such as tread compounds and whitewall stock). Others are by government mandate.
“Any time there’s been an opportunity to improve or comply, that’s in the tire,” Kelsey said.
Active in St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Kelsey was a charter member of the Camdenton Knights of Columbus and the Camdenton Optimist Club.
He is survived by his wife, Janice; daughters Ann Doughty and Mary Kelsey; three grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
Allee-Holman-Howe Funeral Home in Camdenton is handling the funeral arrangements.