By Judy Reed
As a young newlywed whose husband worked for the Clipper girls, Mary Goller-Kilts could not have imagined that she would one day be Grand Marshal for the festival they made possible. She will be 81 in six weeks.
“I was initially very surprised,” she said, about finding out she had been voted in as the 2013 Grand Marshal. “I didn’t think I was deserving.”
But she couldn’t be more wrong. “The Festival is extremely proud and thankful for the many years of Mary’s outstanding dedication to the entire Cedar Springs community,” said Michele Tracy-Andres, President of the Festival. “Her outstanding community service in several organizations is very impressive and exactly what we look for in a Red Flannel Festival Grand Marshal. It’s very obvious Mary loves Cedar Springs and especially the Red Flannel Festival! Her connection to Festival Founders, Grace Hamilton and Nina Babcock is very special to us. The Red Flannel Town is a better place because of her involvement.”
Mary grew up in Grand Rapids. When she was 8 years old her father passed away, and when she was 12, in 1945, her mother died. She had an older sister who was 16 and stayed with relatives, and Mary went to St. John’s Catholic orphanage and attended Catholic Central High School. She graduated from cosmetology school in 1949.
She met her future husband, Oscar Goller, a veteran, when he took some girls dancing in Grand Rapids in 1951. She was 18 years old. “It was a whirlwind romance,” she recalled. She moved here to Cedar Springs in February 1951, turned 19 in April, and was married by June. Oscar worked for the Clipper Girls—Grace Hamilton and Nina Babcock—as a linotypist, and the couple rented an apartment from them for a time. Grace, who was also a real estate agent, soon found the couple a house—the one Mary still lives in—near Cedar Springs High School, for $2,800. “We were very close to Grace and Nina,” remarked Mary. “They were very affectionate people.” Mary said she would go into the office and help clean up, and would help out the festival by handing out flyers to the merchants. She also got to meet Jerry Ford, our future president, who used to attend the Festivals. “That was exciting,” she said.
Professionally, Mary worked for both Modern Cleaners here in Cedar Springs and Uptown Cleaners in Grand Rapids. When Tom Cooper, her former manager at Uptown, bought Modern Cleaners, he asked her to return here and manage it. She retired at age 73 after 52 years in the dry cleaning business.
In 1973, she also found a love for volunteering with the American Legion Auxiliary. “I joined for the vets and for the children,” she explained. Mary has served in several different roles in the Auxiliary, including state president. She is currently Unit 287 Chaplain and Membership Chairman, Girls State Chairman, Education Chairman, and Funeral Luncheon Chairman. But her heart is in the Salon of the 8/40 in northern Kent County, an auxiliary organization she founded that is committed to fundraising and scholarships for respiratory diseases in children. The money raised goes to National Jewish Hospital in Denver, Colorado.
“I went and visited and saw the great work they do there,” she noted. Mary said their Salon has grown to 44 partners that also make ditty bags for the kids at DeVos Children’s Hospital. “I feel this work for children is the most important thing in my life,” she said.
Mary and Oscar adopted two children, Addie and Oscar Alan. Mary now has three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She and Oscar were married for 45 years.
Two years after Oscar died, Mary met Don Kilts, also a veteran and a widower. They married in 1998, and were married just under 10 years, when he passed away. Since then, she’s kept very busy in her volunteer work.
Throughout her life, Mary has always promoted Red Flannels, both personally and through the American Legion, and finally has the opportunity to do it in a highly visible way—as Grand Marshal of the 2013 Festival this fall.
“It is with a humble heart I accept to serve as Grand Marshal for this coming year 2013,” she said. “Rest assured that I will continue to promote our town, flannels and its great people in memory of the founders of our Red Flannel Town, Grace Hamilton and Nina Babcock.”