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Bil-Jac Founder Bill Kelly Dies at 95

Posted: Sept. 30, 2013, 5:30 p.m. EDT


Bill Kelly, an animal nutrition expert who with his brother Jack started Ohio dog food manufacturer Bil-Jac, died Sept. 27 at age 95, the company reported today.

A founding member of the 55-year-old Pet Food Institute, Kelly was credited with formulating the first patented dog food. The patent for the frozen recipe was issued in 1951, four years after the two World War II veterans established a company that today also produces dry food and treats from plants in Medina, Ohio, and Berlin, Md.

Raised on a farm, Bill Kelly witnessed how animals thrived on a nutritious diet. He believed that chicken protein and other fresh ingredients would suit a dog better than the vegetable proteins and glutens popular at the time, the company stated.

 Bill Kelly
Bill Kelly was chairman of the board at Bil-Jac Foods.
Home from the war and living on the family farm in northern Ohio, Kelly and his brother spent months of research on a dog food formula. The food they chose was frozen to preserve its freshness and nutrients.

The brothers sold their food door to door by handing out samples and asking pet owners to take the Bil-Jac Two Bowl Challenge. Bill Kelly, competing against 46 other Ohio dog food companies, suggested putting his thawed food in a bowl next to the dog’s current recipe. When the dogs chose Bil-Jac, word spread and the company grew.

Kelly’s two oldest sons, Bob and Ray, left special-education teaching jobs in the early 1970s to join the company. His youngest son, Jim, came aboard in 1980.

Shunning high-temperature, high-pressure manufacturing processes, Bill Kelly in the early 1980s formulated a dry dog food made with gently cooked and dried fresh chicken. He later oversaw development of the company’s popular soft Liver Treats.

Kelly stayed involved with Bil-Jac Foods into his 90s but several years ago turned over day-to-day operations to his sons.

Throughout his career, Kelly was active in community and philanthropic endeavors.

He served for 12 years on the local school board and 39 years on the Medina Hospital board. He started the Highland Schools Foundation for Educational Excellence and was a founding member of the hospital’s foundation.

He and his wife of 68 years, Ruth, who died in 2012, supported five high school scholarship programs and one college scholarship program. He also established the Granger United Methodist Church Endowment Fund.

Kelly also is survived by seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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