A 30-year veteran of Clemson Extension, Cely began his career in 1957, serving as an assistant county agent in Oconee and Dillon counties, ultimately rising to become the assistant district leader for the Piedmont region.
Cely’s book, “Brushy Creek, A Country Boy’s Haven,” originally was written for his grandchildren so they would know about his early life. The last three stories — including the “memories” item on the final page — were written two weeks before his death in 2001.
Colleagues remember Cely for his leadership. “He had the common touch of a leader. He led by example,” said Greenville County Extension Agent Danny Howard, who nominated Cely for the honor. “He used to say, ‘There is good in everybody. It’s up to me to find it.'”
Cely played a central role in the 1979 establishment of the South Carolina Association of Extension Secretaries, later renamed the S.C. Association of Extension Administrative Professionals.
“A few other states had such an organization and Mr. Cely wanted the administrative staff to have one in South Carolina, too,” Howard said. “He would be proud of the association’s long history.”
During his travels in rural South Carolina as a county agent, Cely saw firsthand the needs of the indigent and tried to meet some of those needs one family at a time.
“Children may be poor,” he said, “but they still believe in Santa Claus.” His personal charity grew to become organized as Marvin’s Kids, a program founded in 1979 that continues today with more than 300 volunteers through Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Seneca.