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Shelley and Kelly Rubrecht

Shelley and Kelly Rubrecht performed in Jackson and around Wyoming for more than three decades. Kelly no longer plays due to an illness. The couple's friends are organizing a fundraising concert to help with his medical expenses. 

Kelly and Shelley Rubrecht’s first musical gig was in 1976 at Dornan’s Cuckwagon in Moose.

Nearly 40 years later, Shelley is returning to Dornan’s. This time without her husband.

Kelly, a guitarist, and Shelley, a fiddler and vocalist, performed in Jackson and around Wyoming for over 35 years. That is, until Kelly was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease nine years ago.

The 67-year-old continued to strum the guitar even after his diagnosis. But, in October his health took a turn for the worse. He’s now living at a Jackson nursing home with around-the-clock nursing care.

Friends of the Rubrecht family have started a fundraising campaign to help them with medical expenses. Donations are being accepted at the Community Resource Center in Jackson and at the Bank of Jackson Hole.

The campaign is being capped off with a concert and dinner at Dornan’s from 4 to 8 p.m. June 14. Tickets are being sold ahead of time for $75.

“I’m just absolutely overwhelmed and very, very touched,” Shelley said. “It’s a fabulous community here.”

Country singer-songwriter Stephanie Davis and guitarist Mike Dowling are headlining the musical performances at Dornan’s. Rare guitars and gift certificates to local Jackson Hole businesses will be auctioned off.

“It’s a sad story for two wonderful people who have given a lot all over the state,” said Zaidee Fuller, who is organizing the fundraising efforts. “We’re trying to help Shelley face the financial implications of paying for long-term nursing care.”

Shelley and Kelly met in the summer of 1974. Both worked in Grand Teton National Park; Kelly was a seasonal fisheries biologist and Shelley, a seasonal naturalist. They were introduced at a party for park employees, during which Kelly convinced Shelley, a longtime violinist, to start playing the fiddle.

In the fall of 1976 they formed their band, “Shelly and Kelly.” The next year they released their first record, an eponymous album. In 1982, they released another one, titled “Chute 5.” Both records were reissued last year on a single CD.

The couple played weddings and private parties all over the valley.

“They had a wonderful duo,” Fuller said. “I think they very often donated their time. More often than not.”

In 1999, Kelly played with Stephanie Davis on the Prairie Home Companion show in Butte, Montana. In the early 2000s, Shelley and Kelly started performing with Davis. They traveled on the weekends, going as far as Switzerland.

“They’re famous because they’re wonderful people and they always pitch in to help with a fiddle contest or whatever is being asked of them,” Fuller said.

In 2004, Kelly started to show signs that he was losing motor control. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s the next year and playing the guitar became increasingly difficult.

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The last time he walked was in October.

“He was about to walk the dog and he fell to his knees at the door and said ‘I can’t walk the dog,’” Shelley said.

Kelly spent nearly four months in facilities in Utah and Idaho before being able to come home to Jackson in February. He has almost complete dementia now, Shelley said. He doesn’t recognize everyone, but he knows his wife.

“I missing having him in our home,” Shelley said. “It changed our family dynamics.”

Shelley and Kelly have an 18-year-old son, Ian, who is graduating from high school this weekend. Kelly won’t be able to attend the ceremony but Shelley and Ian, in cap and gown, will visit him afterward for a piece of cake.

“It’s been really tough,” Shelley said. “But everybody has these things and you just have to go with it.”

She sees the upcoming fundraiser at Dornan’s as a tribute to her husband.

“They’ve had an impact on people all over the state and beyond and there’s hardly a soul they’ve met who haven’t been touched by what wonderful people they are,” Fuller said.

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Follow crime and courts reporter Lillian Schrock on Twitter @lillieschrock.

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