Arliss Kelsey, 78

Arliss Kelsey, 78, of Iowa Falls, IA, passed away peacefully at home on December 31, 2023, surrounded by her loving family following a long and brave battle with cancer. A celebration of Arliss’ life and luncheon will be held Saturday, February 17 from 11-2 at Adams Celebration of Life, Iowa Falls. With honor, Adams Celebration of Life is serving the family. 

Arliss was the daughter of Edwin and Bernice (Richa) Wellendorf and was born on September 25, 1945, in Carroll, IA. Arliss attended Audubon schools and graduated in 1964. As a student, Arliss immersed herself in all subjects, especially art. She was an athlete and played guard on the varsity basketball team. At graduation she received the American Legion Citizenship Award. After high school she attended Drake University, then the University of Iowa, continuing her study of Art. During her summers, Arliss worked at Camp Hantesa as a camp counselor and at the historic Teller House in Central City, CO. Arliss earned her B.S. in Art Education from Iowa and later her certificate in English from Iowa State University. She went on to teach both Art and English in the Fort Dodge and Aplington school districts. 

In 1972 she married Kurt Kelsey of Iowa Falls. They celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary this past February. Together, she and Kurt built their home farm into a thriving and beautiful space. They worked hard to renovate the farmhouse and grounds, making it their own. Arliss and Kurt welcomed a son, Kent, in 1975, and a daughter, Letha, in 1978. Arliss helped to manage the business end of the farm and took care of the household as well. She was an amazing cook and enjoyed preparing healthful and delicious meals. Along with her work on the farm, Arliss founded her own small business, “Giftcards,” bringing her hand-drawn cards, recipe books and gift certificates to small businesses around Iowa. 

Arliss was a gifted artist – she loved nature, which was a continual source of inspiration for her. She worked both from direct observation and memory, making hundreds of sketches of the surrounding Iowa landscape. Her paintings, drawings and mixed media collages have been included in group and solo exhibitions around the greater Midwest, including the MacNider Art Museum in Mason City and the Blanden Art Museum in Fort Dodge. Her work is in numerous private collections. A lifelong learner, Arliss continued her creative practice by taking classes in ceramics, making expressive sculptures and functional work. Her love of working with her hands inspired everything she did. 

Arliss enjoyed being active, especially her daily walks. She was an excellent cross-country skier and loved annual family trips to northern Wisconsin. Arliss and Kurt took the family on adventures to Pontiac shows around the country; she and Kurt continued to attend reunions with their old cars for many years. Arliss was an avid gardener and cultivated bountiful vegetables and flowers. She had a keen eye for antiques and other collectables and loved a good garage sale. Arliss volunteered for many years with the Iowa Falls Historical Society and led a successful effort to restore a key painting within the old Iowa Falls Carnegie Library Art Collection. Arliss worked to better her community, promoting equity and defending the environment. 

Above all, Arliss was kind. She loved her family and was proud of their ideas, goals and accomplishments. She had incredible empathy and knew how to support others. Arliss gave of herself, always making sure her family and friends were cozy, happy and healthy. Her sense of humor and sharp wit were felt by all that knew her. Fondest family memories include skiing together, exploring the woods on the farm, winter sledding parties, shooting hoops with her grandchildren, trips to Decorah to spend a fun weekend, her lasagna (family favorite!) and experiencing art together. Arliss’ family proudly watched her throw the first pitch at an Iowa Cubs baseball game in 2022.

Arliss is survived by her son Kent and wife Sara and their children, Jackson and Robyn; daughter Letha and husband Luke and their children, Gus and Wynn; her brother Larry Wellendorf and wife Linda; sister-in-law Lynda Peterson, as well as many extended family members and great friends. 

She was preceded in death by her husband Kurt; parents Ed and Bernice Wellendorf; sister Bernadette and brother Ronald Wellendorf. 

Her family is grateful for all the support of friends and family during this time and welcomes your thoughts, stories and condolences. In lieu of flowers, the family asks you to consider making a charitable donation or planting a tree in Arliss’ honor. 


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