Lee Kelton: North Texan put passion, pizzazz into local green causes

Dallasite Lee Kelton died shortly after being diagnosed with leukemia this month.

April 15, 2020

The sudden departure of Lee Kelton from this physical world has devastated three North Texas “green” communities: Naturalists, Oak Cliff – especially its Earth Day fest crew, and Celtic, where Kelton was once producer of the colorfully green North Texas Irish Festival.

Kelton, born Henry Lee Kelton Jr. on April 1, 1940, passed away from acute myeloid leukemia on Saturday, April 11, surrounded by family in his Oak Cliff home. A matchless spirit who gave tremendously to the world, North Texas is a better, greener place because of him.

Kelton possessed a great heart and a sincere spirit. He was empathetic and generous and at times fiercely passionate. His huge hugs, his terrible jokes, his vigorous laughter, his endless stories! The party started when he arrived. He was truly an overgrown Irish leprechaun, robust and larger than life. So mischievous! His eyes had a perennial twinkle. He knew how to befriend you and made even strangers smile every day. His is a tremendous loss.

Kelton called himself a landman, working in the management of oil fields in Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Texas, after studying history and government at the University of North Texas. He operated his own company, Celtic Land Services, and retired from Lone Star Gas as a Senior Petroleum Land Manager. From that point on, he was a landman for nature, pouring himself into recruiting others to care as genuinely for the Earth as he did.

Lee Kelton at the NTMN booth
Lee Kelton talks to kids at the North Texas Master Naturalist booth at the North Texas Irish Festival. 


Kelton found his nature tribe when he connected to North Texas Master Naturalists, graduating from classes in 2012 and quickly becoming a fixture. He could work a Nature Discovery Trunk like no other — his jovial raconteur spirit drew people, especially youth, to the North Texas Master Naturalist booth. He won a festival award in 2018 for his NTMN booth at the North Texas Irish Festival, which was always enlivened by his mirthful visits and occasional gifts of whiskey shots.

Kelton’s vision, affection, and hard work infuse every square foot of Twelve Hills Nature Center. His legacy will live on in all the students he interacted with in the Nature Leader Program at Rosemont Elementary, especially his posse of 5th-grade boys.

Marcie Haley, director of Twelve Hills, said he will be missed at the Blackland prairie restoration.

“Lee was an enthusiastic friend and companion in all the many projects related to Twelve Hills,” said Haley. “He was a nonstop source of good in the world.”

Lee Kelton
Lee Kelton was an enthusiastic volunteer at local nature centers.

Audubon Dallas was another recipient of Kelton’s kindness. Julie Collins, director of Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center, shared, “Lee was always inviting me to host a booth at this event and that event, trying to help me get more people aware of Dogwood Canyon. He was very giving to the center. A heart of gold, a great man!”

His volunteer spirit graced Texas Discovery Gardens, whose former director of horticulture, Roger Sanderson, commented.

“This is such a great loss. Lee was constantly volunteering at the gardens, but his work was always interrupted by his unquenchable thirst for knowledge!”

At the Texas Wildlife Association, Kelton’s enthusiasm enthralled Texas youth in the Learning Across New Dimensions in Science program.

For all these efforts and more, Kelton received the quarterly North Texas Master Naturalist volunteer award in the summer of 2019. Even in his final week, he made calls to friends about continuing his myriad of volunteer projects and worried to others that he’d not reached the 40 hours of volunteer work required for NTMN certification each year.

Lee Kelton and Martha Heimburg
Lee Kelton with Martha Heimberg.


Tightly bonded to his Oak Cliff community and passionate that Dallas should have a grassroots Earth Day event, Lee was a big part of the energy and soul of Oak Cliff Earth Day with wife Lybo Buchanan, stepping up in a big way after his brother-in-law Coke Buchanan.

“He was a key volunteer who worked on many aspects of the event,” said Wendel Withrow, director of Green Source DFW, which produces Oak Cliff Earth Day along with its parent nonprofit the Memnosyne Institute. “His smiling face and easy nature were his best contributions, along with repairing those pesky red transport wagons from year to year.”

“I am shocked,” commiserated OCED volunteer Lara Guerra. “He was one in a million and I will miss him very much. Oak Cliff Earth Day will never be the same without him. His memory is a blessing. May his family be surrounded with love and light.”

GSDFW at Dallas Peacemaker Awards
Lee Kelton, back right, with the Green Source DFW team at the Dallas Peacemaker Awards in 2018.


Lee Kelton toast Photo by Mark Kennedy
Friends toasted Lee Kelton this week. Photo by Mark Kennedy.

Proud of his Irish heritage — he absolutely rocked a kilt — Kelton was integral to the Southwest Celtic Music Association and its North Texas Irish Festival. He formerly served as president of the SCMA and for several years sat on its board of trustees. At the North Texas Irish Festival, Kelton once served as its producer and entertainment director.

Sheri Bush, current NTIF entertainment director, commented: “He was everywhere at North Texas Irish Fest and always with a hug, a good joke or bad joke and sometimes they were the same! He seemed to be universally loved, and he was usually the biggest presence in the group. But he was equally happy to sit for a quiet conversation, trade a few stories and was always encouraging.”

A recurring theme about Kelton was that he was always in motion, always willing to help anyone anywhere, said Bush.

Lee Kelton and friends
Lee Kelton and his wife Lybo Buchanan, left, and Martha Heimburg, center. On right, Green Source DFW reporter Amy Martin and her husband Scooter Smith.

“For the last at least 10 years he’s run the tear-down crew at the festival, one of the most important and least favorite jobs out there. Lee always kept things moving forward and people laughing. I don’t think any of us truly realize yet how much we will miss him.”

As word of Kelton’s passage spread through Facebook, a spontaneous sunset toast arose the evening after. Friends shared pictures of their toasts, selecting beverages Kelton would approve of, include Guinness beer, various Scotches, whiskeys, and bourbons, and even a Speyburn Braden Orach Speyside single malt whisky. Sláinte!

“My heart feels a loss of what I thought was an unquenchable light,” shared Elaine Epps White. “Lee was my go-to-guy who could juggle his time like a magician. He made me laugh and always feel smarter and more important than I am. Such a raucous, delightful, one-of-a-kind guy. My world feels smaller with him gone. Wish I could have said one last Irish blessing to him!”

And so we will:

“Go n-éirí an bóthar leat. Go gcasfar ar a chéile sinn arís.” (May your journey be successful. Until we meet again.)

You are invited to leave memories and tributes to Lee Kelton at his obituary page. Date for an Irish wake is pending, The family asks that donations in Lee’s name be made to Twelve Hills Nature Center.

Stay up to date on everything green in North Texas, including the latest news and events! Sign up for the weekly Green Source DFW Newsletter! Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Also check out our new podcast The Texas Green Report, available on your favorite podcast app.

Original post at: https://www.greensourcedfw.org/articles/north-texas-naturalist-brought-energy-local-green-groups