2021 Stephen Girard Award
Dennis M. Kelleher ’65
One year out of Girard, Dennis Kelleher found himself reporting to the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC. And, like the day he entered the Hum, he had no idea how dramatically his life was about to change. After boot camp he was assigned to Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division (“The Fighting Third”) as a payroll clerk. Was this his first step on the road that would lead to a remarkable career in finance? Very possibly it was. If so, it was going to be a rough road, indeed, because it initially led him directly to the war in Vietnam. More on that later. All of us were born under a zodiac sign; Dennis Kelleher was apparently born under a dollar sign, as well. He has been involved in, and has had an influence on, finance his entire career — starting with a BA degree from LaSalle College, earned at night while working full time, in (you guessed it) accounting. After graduate work in organizational dynamics at the University of Pennsylvania he began his ascent up the corporate ladder, eventually working in all aspects of finance, including: mergers and acquisitions; budgeting/forecasting; risk management; investment management of pension plans and post retirement welfare plans.
In 1971, Kelleher joined the John Maneely Company’s Wheatland Tube, a $1 billion, 1,700 employee manufacturer of steel pipe. In 1991, he was named treasurer of the company and served in that post until 2001 when he was named vice president and chief financial officer. In this board-level position he was responsible for all financial aspects of the company, as well as human resources and labor negotiations. Kelleher retired from Wheatland in 2007, a year after the company was sold.
Service to his alma mater.
It is Kelleher’s involvement in the finances of Girard College and the Girard College Alumni Association that primarily earns him Stephen Girard Award honors. He was a member of the Girard College Board of Managers from 2006 to 2013, serving on the finance committee and as treasurer for three years. He has also been a member of the Girard College Foundation since 2006 and currently serves as its treasurer. And it is interesting to note that the Kelleher dedication to working for a better Girard College runs in the family. His daughter, Tara, joined the Hum faculty in the early 2000s as a middle school teacher and continues there to this day teaching fourth graders. With respect to the GCAA, Dennis served as our president from July 2002 to June 2004, was chairman of the finance committee for six years, and currently serves as treasurer. Additionally, he was a charter member of the committee formed to mount legal challenges to the Board of Directors of City Trusts 2012 petition to reconfigure Girard College. Additionally, he is a charter member and vice chair of the Founder’s Keepers Initiative committee. Kelleher brought his financial acumen and organizational skills to bear in all these key positions. Both our school and alumni association have benefitted substantially from his forward-thinking counsel.
Service to his community.
As you might expect, Dennis Kelleher is also deeply involved in community organizations and professional associations. Always keenly interested in supporting education, Kelleher ran for and won a seat on the School Board of Haddonfield NJ, where he served from 2008 to 2015 and chaired both the finance and negotiating committees. He helped re-establish the Haddonfield Education Trust, serving as its president for six years and then treasurer for two more. He was also appointed to the board of the Haddonfield Public Library where he continues to serve as treasurer. He currently also serves as treasurer of the Camden Schools Foundation, a scholarship fundraising effort, and is active in Rotary and American Legion scholarship fundraising activities. Kelleher is a former member of the Financial Executives Institute and a former president of its Philadelphia Chapter, and was a member of the Executive Business Advisory Board for Rutgers University – Camden. He is a long-time resident of Haddonfield, NJ with his wife, Deb, a human resources executive. The Kellehers have another daughter, Christine, and four grandchildren.
Service to his country.
After spending a second summer following graduation from Girard with several members of the Class of ‘65 just “raising hell,” as Dennis puts it, he and his and his classmates reported for service in the United States Marines. One year after his graduation the U.S. was fully mired in the Vietnam conflict. By Kelleher’s own admission they were totally naïve about what was ahead of them. Dennis’s baptism of fire came while he was attached to the 3rd Marine Division in Phu Bai, Vietnam — on the fateful day he had to make a payroll run to Khe Sanh. When it came to being in the wrong place at the wrong time in Vietnam, it didn’t get any worse than Khe Sanh. You may recall that the intense fighting there signaled the beginning of the Tet Offensive and was the longest and bloodiest battle of the war. It raged for 77 days and Kelleher was trapped at Khe Sanh for the first 17 of them, pinned down like everyone else by continuous incoming fire so fierce it was impossible for the Marines to mount a counterattack. He got out by literally “catching” a flight. The C-130s dropping supplies never really stopped before taking off again because it was too dangerous. Dennis had to run after the plane and leap onto the ramp of the open cargo hatch. The Marine running next to him took some shrapnel and Dennis had the burden of dragging him onboard, as well. How do we show our gratitude to Dennis M. Kelleher, Girard College Class of 1965, for everything he has done? Where do we begin to say “thank you for your service” — to your school, your alumni association, your community, your country? Hopefully, the Stephen Girard Award will show, in some small way, how much we are indebted to him for all of it.
~ Jon Newton