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Officer Rallies 'Round Noble Cause

Art Kelly (right), as Santa, and Jimmy Johnson, a long-time caller, spread the cheer during the holidays at the Chestnut Bingo Hall. A member of the Knights of Columbus, Kelly, a retired naval officer, and his fellow “crew” members rally ’round a noble cause - helping their fellow man. Proceeds from their bingo games fund the Knights’ various charitable contributions.

Officer Rallies 'Round Noble Cause:
Bingo A Treasure Trove For Local Charities

Ok …
it may not be as exciting as working the flight deck of an aircraft carrier where catapults launch combat aircraft at speeds of 0 to 180 mph in 2.5 seconds – arresting gear engines recover those same aircraft day or night – jet aircraft are moved about the flight deck in what seems to be orchestrated planning – but one wrong move could be      catastrophic – according to one crewman’s account.

“This was my life for 28 years,” said Art Kelly, who loved every minute of his Naval career.

But it’s still a “job” he relishes. So much so, he’s even “traded” in his Navy uniform for a bit more jollier gear.

This Christmas, this retired naval officer, donned a Santa suit for his stint as a volunteer caller at the Chestnut Bingo Hall in Newport News, Va.
And both are deemed noble “careers.”

The retired lieutenant commander, who was raised in the New York City Bronx, runs bingo games to help raise money for charitable causes, while spreading the cheer.

Kelly, now 57, is a member of the Knights of Columbus Mary Star of the Sea Council 511, a Catholic men’s fraternal organization founded by the Rev. Michael J. Mc Givney in 1882, whose philanthropic causes – much like Santa – now have global appeal.

In fact – from a nonprofit standpoint – the council’s bingo nights have become so popular they use more electronic handsets than any charitable bingo session in the nation today.

That’s upward of 300 Video King’s Lil’ Champs – the handset of choice – being daubed at one setting on any given Sunday of the year.

And, that’s good news for the nonprofit organizations, according to Jeff Lichty, a gaming industry veteran, who since 1990, has owned Chestnut Hall.

“Thousands are raised each year by the nonprofit organizations to support their respective charters,” said Lichty, who rents his hall to about 10 different charities throughout the year.

They range from community groups like Kiwanis, traveling youth softball teams and high school bands to c support groups, which aid patients and their families, and the Air Force Sergeants Association, who provide aid to our wounded warriors and their families, he said.

Lichty, who was raised in the family Bingo business, had worked at the Mirage and Treasure Island casinos in Vegas and the Cotton Club Casino riverboat in Greenville, Miss., before making charitable gaming his career.

“I enjoy working with the nonprofit agencies helping them raise funds for their causes,” he said.

But the charitable market is just like any other business. Although highly popular, Bingo – legalized in the state in 1973 – must compete with more and more consumer gaming choices. With the lottery, horse racing and Delaware casinos, Lichty said, there’s simply more   for the players to do.

Which brings us back to Kelly. What – one may ask – led this sea-faring man, who has truly sailed the Seven Seas, to land on this Virginia shore?

“Tidewater is the Mecca of Bingo in the state of Virginia,” Kelly kids, adding to the area’s lore. But more likely his sense of direction and the winds of fate and good fortune are at the core.

“You could say his journey began during the Vietnam Era, when young men like Kelly were given limited choices as to their career. In 1970, by luck of the draw, his number was called, and he was drafted by the Army. Heeding the words of his father, he opted to Go Navy.

“My father was in the Army and fought during World War II. He transited home on a Navy ship. He had clean sheets and warm food. That’s something you didn’t have in a foxhole,” he jokingly said.

But that doesn’t mean his mission was any less perilous. The flight deck where he launched fighter aircraft and recovered them is the “most dangerous four acres of real estate in the world,” he said.  

When it came to retirement, you couldn’t part this married father of three from the sea.

Since he enjoyed the naval life, he went to work in the Engineering Department of the Newport News Shipyard, overseeing the installation of aircraft launching and recovery equipment.

Slightly changing course, he then began working for the Department of the Navy as a System Specialist in the Naval Sea Systems Command’s Carrier Planning Activity, “whose mission is the life cycle support of the Navy’s Aircraft Carriers,” he said.

But his call to duty didn’t end there. Wanting to do more for his country, Kelly joined the Knights about 17 years ago.

“I was looking for a men’s fraternal organization where people shared my same beliefs in God and Country.

"The Knights of Columbus was that organization. It fills your heart and your mind with the joy of giving to others and the feeling that comes with making a difference,” he said.

Although his council established in 1900, had its own home, money was need to expand the programs and make improvements.

BINGO be thy name ...

“It’s a lot easier running bingo than holding a fish fry. This gives us the opportunity to generate funds to support the charities,” he said of the games the council has been holding for the past six years.

The money, he said, helps support a number of local charities.

“Some go to the local Catholic church and school. Scholarship trusts have been established to assist families in need. We’re also one of the major nonprofit donors to the local American Red Cross, Food for the Poor, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army. However, our special projects are the Special Olympics and KOVAR, Knights Of Virginia Assisting The Retarded (God’s Special People),” he said.

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