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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Growing up in Naperville – Grateful for memorable career

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Update, Jan. 18, 2024 / The other day a couple of lifelong Naperville residents and longtime PN readers told us that “Growing Up in Naperville” would be missed. Since 2020, Ron Keller’s memories featured in his monthly column have connected the growing community with the past 84 years.

It seems like just yesterday Ron Keller contacted us with a request to meet him at Einstein Bagels. The man with many stories had an idea to write a column that might lead to the book many of his friends and acquaintances had urged he put together. We welcomed and very much appreciated his idea. And his former classmates and students who now reside all over the nation began following his memories online.

News that Ron Keller is receiving Hospice care at St. Patrick’s Residence after in-and-out stays at Edward now is featured at Ron Keller’s “Caring Bridge.”

Ron’s family created a “Caring Bridge” website in order to share developments and updates, making sure they are including everyone who loves Ron.

“Because there are so many, it’s been hard to make sure everyone is kept in the loop, so hopefully this page can serve as update central going forward. I (Jeri Thompson) am putting this together in the hopes that y’all will feel comfortable using this site to share questions and thoughts, and also, should you need anything, you can feel comfortable reaching out to me.”

www.caringbridge.org/visit/ronaldjkeller (This is NOT a funding or donations page, merely a place to share information. Site created on Dec. 31, 2023.)

We are forever grateful to Ron Keller, his wife Vicki, his family and friends for giving us the opportunity to help tell the story about his life, his hometown and the band he loved. —PN

Original Post, Sept. 11, 2023 / Maybe this column should be renamed “All Grown Up in Naperville!”

From the time I was in first grade, I wanted to be in the band. My mom and dad both played in the Naperville Municipal Band. And every Thursday evening in the summer, I would walk to Central Park with my Aunt Pearl to hear their concerts. In those days, the concerts started at 8:15PM and sometimes they went until 10PM.

Back then, concerts were like a version of The Ed Sullivan Show. They included singing acts, acrobats, patriotic readings and even a dog show now and then. Director Elmer Koerner tried to feature a different section of the band during every concert. When basses were featured, my dad always made sure I was there because that is what I wanted to play—the big bass horn!

By the time I was in 8th grade, I wanted to play in the band and possibly become a band director like Mr. Koerner.

In 1961, I began my teacher career in a small farming town in northwest Illinois. And I continued to play in the NMB each summer!

In 1963, Mr. Koerner had a heart attack during a concert, and I finished up directing the program!

The NMB Board of Directors named me “assistant director” beginning in the 1964 season. I was kind of an insurance policy in case he had another heart attack.

Mr. Koerner passed away in November 1964 and was named director beginning the 1965 season. The following year I was offered a band job in Naperville and the rest is history.

My career as Director of the Naperville Municipal Band lasted 57 years, ending this year on August 10 when a crowd estimated at more than 3,000 attendees filled Central Park for my final concert! What a thrill!

On August 11, the band hosted a retirement banquet for me. Then during the City Council meeting on Aug. 14, the City named Court Place in Central Park “Ron Keller Commemorative Way.”

Finally, on August 27, there was an open house at the VFW for friends of the NMB and myself.

I’ve been so fortunate to be able to live a dream all my life!

I became the 4th generation to play in the Naperville Municipal Band, and by 2023, there have been six generations of the Keller family that have played in our band.

None of my dream would have been possible without the support of many people, especially my life partner, mentor, critic, closest friend and love of my life, my wife, Vicki!

I feel very lucky to have had her at my side always!

So…There you have it! Memories of a great career and a wonderful community to grow up in! Thanks to you all!

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Ron Keller
Ron Keller
Ron Keller is a lifelong Naperville resident, tuba enthusiast and has been conducting the Naperville Municipal Band for over 50 years.
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