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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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.
man a walking storybook - History `geek' Keller earns
respect of many for his knowledge of Waukesha County
Journal Sentinel - Thursday, January 1, 1998
10-12 grade level (Lexile: 1180L)
Author: Special to the
"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
"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
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,"
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
"I have so many doors that are open to me," said
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
"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