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November 2002

The Waggoners -
A Family of Love, Hope, and Faith

by Joseph H. RADDER

Jim and Jill Kelly and her family, the Waggoners, radiate the kind of love that comes from sharing sorrow, tempered by faith and hope.

Hunter Kelly, now age 5, was born on Jim’s birthday, Valentine’s Day, in 1997. The baby passed all the newborn tests with flying colors. The first month he appeared to be a healthy baby boy except for some signs of colic. The second month, he became more irritable and, by the end of the third month, he spent most of his waking hours screaming. The pediatricians continued to say that Hunter had colic, eventually changing their diagnosis to Cerebral Palsy. Jim and Jill were devastated, but determined to do everything they could, with God’s help, to give little Hunter the best life possible.

On June 23, 1997 the Kellys’ worst nightmare came true. Hunter was diagnosed with Krabbe disease, a very serious infantile disorder that is often fatal in a child’s first few years of life.

Jill’s Mom Jacque, her dad Jerry, and her brother Jack and his wife Kim, immediately sprang into action, not only to help Hunter, but all children who have this terrible disease.

Thanks to Hunter’s Hope, the foundation established by Jim and Jill Kelly and the Waggoner family, considerable progress has been made in research which hopefully will eventually lead to prevention and cure.

The Waggoner family story provides clear answers for anybody who wonders where their strength comes from.

Jerry Waggoner, Jill Kelly’s father, grew up in Attica and attended Notre Dame High School. In the late ‘60s, Jerry Waggoner met Jacque Ostertag. “He was dating my sister,” Jacque says, “and I wanted a ride in his cool Corvette.” Jerry doesn’t remember it that way, but no matter how they met, it’s clear they fell in love. Jerry and Jacque were married at St. Vincent’s Roman Catholic Church in Attica in April 1969. Jill says, “My mother Jacque is my best friend.” Actually, when people meet Jill and Jacque, they think they are sisters, not mother and daughter.

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Jerry, when he was a senior in high school.

Jacque & Jerry’s wedding (from left to right) Linda, Denny, Jerry, Jerry’s mom Carol, Jacque and Mary.


Jerry worked as a Corrections Officer at Attica State Prison, following in his father’s footsteps. “I was there during the riot of 1971,” he recalls. Listening to Jerry’s story of the riot, it’s easy to understand what he means when he says, “that was one of the things that helped me decide the job wasn’t for me.” After the prison job, Jerry became a building inspector for the state. “Jacque’s father had been an engineer for the state,” he said, “and he was instrumental in getting me into that department. Fortunately, I was assigned to Attica where there was a lot of construction work rehabbing and constructing new buildings at the prison.”

Jill was born in Attica in 1969 and attended school there and in Batavia. She met Jim Kelly in 1991 a few years after he came to Buffalo to become quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. Little did they know then that he would, in time, take the Bills to four Super Bowls and that he was destined to be enshrined in the Football Hall of Fame.

The Kellys have three children, Erin 7, Hunter 5 and Camryn 3. It’s obvious that Jill Waggoner Kelly has strong faith in God. Jill spends a lot of time in bible study, is a columnist for a Christian newspaper called The Word, and is busy with speaking engagements, both at Christian seminars and groups interested in Hunter’s Hope.

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Hunter’s 2nd birthday. Front row: Jill, Erin, Jacque, Hunter and Jim.
Back row: Joe Kelly and Jerry.

Kim holding Ben, Jack (new baby Paige missing), Erin, Jim, Camryn, Jill and Hunter.


Jack was born in July 1971 and also went to schools in Attica and Batavia, where he played baseball, football, basketball and golf. He was too modest to tell us this, but his Mom noted that he had been a golf pro for a number of years and taught golf in that capacity. Jack graduated from the University of Rochester where he majored in economics. He’s now an investment advisor, coming to that job by way of the telecommunications industry. Jack and his wife, Kim Tooze Waggoner, have two children, Ben 1 1/2, Paige 6 months. She, too, is a native of the Batavia area where the Jack Waggoners still live.

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Jill, Jerry and Jack.

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Front row: Jerry and Jacque. Back row: Jack and Jill.

Front row: Jacque and Jerry. Back row: Jack and Jill.


There’s a three-pronged theme to everything the Waggoner family does. It’s based on faith, hope, and love. Jill says, “Our faith grew out of hope for Hunter”.

The name “Hunter’s Hope” came out of a TV show on Channel 2 in 1997, soon after Hunter’s diagnosis. Apparently the public response to that show was tremendous. “The name just made sense,” Jill said. “And Jim quickly saw that here was his chance to use his celebrity, not only to help his own son, but hundreds of other children and their families as well.”

“There has been a lot of progress in Krabbe’s disease research,” Jill was happy to report. Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg at Duke University is at the forefront of pediatric cord-blood transplants which are now saving the lives of Krabbe infants. “There is no cure, but there is effective treatment, and, hopefully, some day there will be prevention,” Jill said. When diagnosed early enough, transplants are possible, and Jill noted that, “Those children who have had successful transplants have the best chance of living a near normal life.” Clearly, much of this progress has been made possible by the Hunter’s Hope Foundation.

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Jim, Erin, Jerry and Jacque’s dad Jack Ostertag.

Jerry and Jack.


Hunter’s Hope is truly a Kelly/ Waggoner family effort. Jim and Jill Kelly are the founders, Jill’s Dad, Jerry, and Mom, Jacque, are on the board, Jack handles the investments, and Jack’s wife, Kim, plays a leadership role among the organization’s annual Candlelight Ball. This year the ball is November 15th.

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Jerry, Jill and Jack at a fundraiser for Hunter’s Hope.


One of Jim Kelly’s passions is hunting. In fact he was hunting out west on the day we interviewed the family. We suspect that when he and Jill named their second baby Hunter, Jim looked forward to having him at his side on hunting trips some day in the future. That doesn’t seem likely now because a cure for Hunter would, in Jill’s words, “be a miracle.”

If there is any group of people anywhere who deserve a miracle it is the Waggoners and the Kellys.

Joseph H. Radder, a regular contributor to Living Prime Time, is the author of “Young Jesus, the missing years”, a fictional biography of a young Jew named Jesus, just released by 1stBooks.com.

 

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