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        Fred Keller: A Man For All Seasons

by Kathy Holt, Sussex Sun, Staff Writer, August 10, 1999

Transcribed/Edited by Michael R. Reilly

Added 12/30/2005 Updated 03/17/2014

Keller is longtime contributor to Sussex community

Village of Sussex - There's a tall balding man wandering the streets of Sussex, he's often armed with a camera, always a pencil and a smallish pad of paper.

    He's a reporter, a photographer, a community organizer, a sports fanatic, and a historian who's always on the trail of community news and local history.

    His name is Fred Keller, and his accomplishments are many.

    Though he's been semi-retired for nearly nine years, the list of activities in which he's involved hasn't really diminished.

    Keller collects anything related to local history, and a whole lot of other things.

    He's been a driving force behind many events including the village's Easter and Fourth of July children's parades, the Hershey Track meet, the summer Puddles league, Earth Day, Band Concerts, the Christmas Tree lighting, the Old Engine Show and the upcoming 75th Anniversary of the village.

    He has authored 15 books, all on display at the Pauline Haass Public Library. He has helped assemble a bound collection of the Sussex Sun for the library as well.

    His role at the Sussex Sun has changed in time. The Sun was first published in 1964 as a free paper that was usually four pages. Keller joined the staff in 1976 and in 1977 the paper became a paid weekly that was also the official source of local legal notices.

    Keller started as the sports editor and still contributes to the sports pages. He started a humor column, "Bald Facts", in the January 27, 1981 issue. A joke from the column once appeared in the Catholic Digest and his snippets regularly appeared in a Journal Sentinel collection of humor columns.

    He currently contributes history columns including, "Pages From the Past", "Retrospect", and frequently writes lengthier historical features and news stories.

    Keller served on the Sussex fire Department for 27 years and is the historian and photographer for the department. He has occasionally served as secretary of the department and chairman of the membership board.

    He was a volunteer on the original Sussex park board as early as 1958 and was appointed to the board in 1960.

    Keller is an active member of his church and took photos of 1,400 families for the St. James Church directory.

    For the last five years, Keller has been responsible for erecting historical signs for the Waukesha County Historical Society and was appointed to the organization's board of directors.

    Keller's love of sports is not limited to court or field, his proudest accomplishment in the sports arena is the fact that six area athletes made all-state basketball teams after learning the sport on the full court in his back yard.

    He got involved in Hamilton athletics through his children, and his daughter was the all-time leading scorer for Hamilton as a sophomore. She earned 13 major letters and so did her friend. As a special bonus, the young woman decided to become a Keller and is married to Keller's oldest son.

    Keller served as secretary-treasurer of the Sussex LOL Baseball team in the late 1950s.

    Fred H. Keller was born in Burlington on Dec. 20, 1931. He was raised in Elm Grove and attended St. Mary's in Elm Grove. He studied history in college and was going to be a history teacher. 

    Keller first became connected to Sussex when his father bought the feed mill off Main Street in 1946.

    He attended Marquette University High School and graduated in 1950 and attended Marquette University on a basketball scholarship. However he learned that freshmen don't play on the varsity team. 

    When Tex Winters started as coach at Marquette, he left (1951-52) to attend Carroll college where he played basketball and was starting center for two years in a row on a team that went to state. 

    [Correction/Clarifications: A story in last week's Sun regarding Fred Keller should have said he was the starting center on two Marquette High School basketball teams that went to the state finals and lost. At Carroll College, his team was rated the No. 2 Division III team in the state and was invited to the NAIA National Tournament.]

    He also played on the 1950-51 Land O' Rivers team that never lost a game.

    He enlisted to serve in the Army during the Korean War in 1952-54. He served in the German Occupation Army, was in the military police and as a desk clerk he wrote up a police report of the day to be used as a sample.

    Keller met his wife, June, while he was working at the First Wisconsin Bank, and they were married in 1955. In February of 1959, they moved into their home on Elmwood Avenue and still live there today.

    Though he worked at his father's mill for many years, he began working for the village in the public works department in the late 1970s. He was often seen behind the wheel of a snowplow or working in the parks.

    Keller took over the responsibility of superintendent of parks in 1988.  

    He was appointed the official Sussex historian in 1976 at the time of the United States bicentennial.

    He was poised to become a member of the Sussex Lions Club when June, who is an active member of the Sussex Lioness club and Friends of the Pauline Haass Public Library group, told him he had too many commitments.

    "I said no, he's involved in too many things, " she recalled.

    Keller was made an honorary member and is always prepared to "give them ink when they call", she explained.

    To her husband's surprise, June planned an event a few years ago, where almost 100 people gathered at Sussex Bowl to roast Keller.

    Keller suffered two strokes 11 years ago, and since then his family and friends have urged him to enjoy a more leisurely lifestyle.

    In his spare time, Keller teaches history classes, hunts for historical material, and travels frequently.

    He started the memorial tree program in the village and has his own tree planted east of the Fire Department in the village park.

    Keller's children; Craig, Carol, Catherine and Curt, have helped bring a new interest into his life - his nine grandchildren. The antics of Jenny, Jim, Jessica, twins, Mark and Mike, Kianna, Kariss, Erik and Melissa often appear in his column.

    He still gives historical tours and attends park board meetings. Though he officially resigned his post with the village last month, he is likely to continue providing assistance in many areas, including helping design the village coffee mugs annually.

        [Correction/Clarifications: A story in last week's Sun regarding Fred Keller should have said he retired from the Sussex Park and Recreation Department 5 1/2 years ago.]

    According to Tom Konkol, of Menomonee Falls, a physical education and health instructor at Hamilton, and head boys and girls soccer coach, Keller is a man for all seasons.

    "He's involved in every aspect of the community. Everywhere from births, deaths of people who have been history-makers and everything in between, including athletics, which is where I've had most of my contact with him," Konkol said. 

    "He seems to know a little or a lot about everything," he explained.

    Konkol says Keller was a key supporter of both youth and high school athletics. "I remember one time I had a softball tournament and someone didn't pick up the awards, and he went and got them."

    Konkol, who taught Keller's son, Curt, physical education, remembers a lot of young athletes who took advantage of the full-court basketball court in the family's back yard.

    "They were out there at all hours playing ball. He just always seemed to be around and lend a helping hand."

    Konkol had a few things to add to Keller's list of accomplishments.

    "He's a master of ceremonies for the annual induction ceremony for the Sussex basketball hall of fame. He's been recognized by the soccer programs for his contributions and he's also been honored by the Sussex baseball program for his support, " Konkol said.

    "He's been around forever. He's like a part of everybody's day. The thing about Fred is he never really retires, he's always helping. He has to have a heartbeat on what's going on in our area," Konkol explained.

    Keller's longtime friend, Henry Ray, of Lisbon, agrees, "I feel that the communities are much richer because of his knowledge of Sussex and the surrounding area."

    Ray, who has known Keller approximately 30 years, thinks his finest quality is unselfishness. "His willingness to give, and it's something that can't be returned."

    The pair have worked closely together on the parks since 1989. Ray, a volunteer, said it was a pleasure working for him and that it will be impossible to replace Keller.

    "You will walk in his tracks, but you can't fill his shoes," he explained.

    "I wouldn't go searching for somebody like him because you won't find him, " Ray said.

    According to June, who was unable to describe her husband in just one word, Fred Keller is all that and more.

    In the years that come, she expects they'll continue to pursue one of Fred's favorite hobbies, travel, and hopefully see Europe.

    Though Keller will no longer be organizing community events, he'll still continue his multi-faceted work for the Sun and the community.

Sussex man a walking storybook - History `geek' Keller earns respect of many for his knowledge of Waukesha County

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Thursday, January 1, 1998

Readability: 10-12 grade level (Lexile: 1180L)
Author: Special to the Journal Sentinel

"Whenever I think of Fred Keller , I think of Sussex ," said Sussex Village President Pat Bartlett.

Bartlett isn't alone.

Keller , 66, is the longtime local historian who shares his knowledge with school and civic groups, and anyone else who will listen.

Keller 's years of efforts were rewarded when the State Historical Society of Wisconsin recently gave him its Local History Award.

Keller is chairman of the Waukesha County Historical Society's historical markers program. He has been leading an effort to place a variety of historical makers in the county, from one at an American Indian mound site near Big Bend to the birthplace of author Laura Ingalls Wilder's mother, Caroline, in Brookfield.

Years ago, Keller surveyed the county and found 40 historical markers -- a number he didn't think adequately represented Waukesha County's rich history.

Thanks in part to his efforts, there are now 47 markers now in Waukesha County. All are made of wood, except for two that are made of bronze. One of the bronze markers dates to 1916, when it was installed at Lapham Peak. The other bronze marker is in Waukesha at the grave of Lyman Goodnow, an abolitionist.

"We don't do things in haste," noted Keller of the historical markers committee. "It could be as little as one year or up to three to five years for a marker to be approved."

Last year, Keller had the historical marker at Menomonee Falls' St. James Catholic Church refurbished and rewritten for the church's sesquicentennial.

While he's a member of St. James, Keller is also an honorary member of St. Alban's Episcopal Church, which is just a short walk from his back door.

"I have a key to (St. Alban's), because so many people who come to me want to hear about the church and its history," he said.

One day when Keller led a tour group of women through the church, which was built in 1864, the pastor handed him the key and announced he was an honorary member.

"I have so many doors that are open to me," said Keller .

He formerly worked for the Public Works Department in Sussex , and later became superintendent of the Parks and Recreation Department for the community. Under his tenure, parks in the Sussex area increased from three to 11.

It was during the nation's bicentennial in 1976 when Keller was doing a series of historical articles that the Village Board "realized I was a historical geek who knew everyone and everything around here," said Keller , chuckling.

So, he was appointed village historian.

It was his aunt Agnes Hallbach, a teacher in the area, who turned him on to history.

"I went across the nation with her by bus in 1946 -- when I just turned 14," he recalled.

His aunt also had a friend, George New, a navigator in World War I.

"I'd sit on his lap and wind him up so he told me stories about the war," said Keller .

When the 6-foot-5-inch Keller enrolled at Marquette University on a basketball scholarship, he knew he wanted to be a history teacher and play basketball.

But in 1952, his plans were cut short and he went into the Army during the Korean War, ending up in Europe.

By the time he returned to Sussex , he married his sweetheart, June, and ended up working in his father's business -- Sussex Mills.

In 1977, Keller grew tired of the long days at the mill and sold out to his partner. He then turned his attention to the village and history.

Though he retired from the village in 1993, he still coordinates various recreational events for the village.

Though a stroke in 1988 curtailed some of his activities, he still covers sports and shoots photographs for the Sussex Sun newspaper.

This past year, the Sussex Fire Department dedicated their 75th anniversary book to Keller , who is a retired volunteer firefighter
Caption: Photo JEFFREY PHELPS STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Fred Keller stands next to a historical marker at St. James Catholic Church, Menomonee Falls, on Christmas Eve.

Where there's smoke, there's . . . popcorn?

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Thursday, April 20, 1995

Readability: >12 grade level (Lexile: 1410L)
Author: Betsy Thatcher

The Journal Sentinel staff

Sussex When the smoke cleared at Village Hall, there was a bag of burning cheese popcorn floating in a toilet and a guy with one very red, balding head.

Smoke billowing through the historic building at N64-W23760 Main St. last week caused an evacuation and brought the Fire Department's screaming emergency vehicles.

Firefighters raced to the second-floor men's room only to discover a smoldering bag of microwave popcorn.

Fred H. Keller , who writes the "Bald Facts" column for the Sussex Sun and is recreation program coordinator for the village, had placed a bag of cheese-flavored popcorn in a microwave oven on the second floor and walked away.

Apparently lost in his work last Wednesday, Keller forgot about the cooking kernels until smoke began filling the air, Village President John H. Tews said.

Keller ran to the oven, grabbed the smoldering, smoking bag and raced to the men's room, along the way filling Village Hall with even more smoke, Tews said.

The smoke set off alarms, causing Deputy Clerk Sue Freiheit, unaware of Keller 's plight, to instruct the staff to close the safe, shut off the computer system and evacuate the building, Tews said.

Once outside, someone ran to an adjacent building and called 911, he said.

Keller , meanwhile, tried to contain the smoldering bag by stuffing it in a toilet, only to discover that cheese-flavored popcorn floats, Tews said.

At that point, firefighters burst in and extinguished the embers.

"No damage or injuries were sustained, except for Fred 's very red face and bald head and perhaps bruised ego," noted Tews.




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