Wilkes D. Kelly was born on February 15, 1907, in Grand Rapids, Michigan; he was educated in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. As a young boy, he visited his great-aunt and great-uncle, Anna and Henry Bentley, on their ranch near Drake, North Dakota. Kelly graduated from the University of North Dakota in 1930 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Education, and a Second Lieutenant's Commission in the Infantry Reserve. While attending, he was active in Tau Sigma Rho, a Greek social fraternity. In 1934, he received a Master of Arts degree, also from UND.
In 1939, he entered the U.S. Army Air Force. Before the U.S. entry into World War II, Kelly was assigned to the American Embassy in London, England. Serving in all theaters of the war, he was most active in the China-Burma-India theater as the Chief of Intelligence. Kelly retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1967. By 1968, he was appointed acting director of the Plans and Requirements Division Directorate of Operations in Headquarters, U.S. Army Strategic Communications Command, in Washington, D.C.
As a graduate of the Command and General Staff School, Kelly also graduated from several Air Force and Department of Defense special intelligence schools. He was a member of the Scottish Rite, the Masons, the Military Order of the World Wars, the Sons of the American Revolution, and many other military, patriotic, and hereditary organizations.
Kelly lived in Arlington, Virginia, prior to moving to Fargo, North Dakota in 1988. He continued the research of the Bentley family history, begun by Mrs. Edward N. Bentley in 1925. Marian Sandin, Kelly's wife of 56 years, preceded him in death in 1990. Wilkes D. Kelly died on December 20, 1994, in Fargo.