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Friday, June 21, 2024

Remembering Ron Keller: Telling tales of Tubaman

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Update, Jan. 27, 2024 / Visitation and Memorial service information for Dr. Ron J. Keller, Feb. 24, 1939, to Jan. 24, 2024.

Visitation for the long-time educator and director of the Naperville Municipal Band will be from 3 to 7PM Fri., Feb. 2, at the First Congregational Church UCC, located at 25 E. Benton Avenue in Naperville. 

UPDATE / CLICK HERE to memorial service held for Dr. Keller at 5PM Sat., Feb. 3, at Wentz Concert Hall in North Central College Fine Arts Center, 171 E. Chicago Avenue, in downtown Naperville. 

Update, Jan. 24, 2024 / Today we’re remembering lifelong Naperville resident Ron Keller, age 84, who passed peacefully earlier this morning with his wife, Vicki, by his side. Ron and Vicki were married for 40 years.

Ron Keller is survived by his wife, Vicki Dahlsten Keller; one sister, Julie Keller; three daughters, Diana Keller Brandt (John), Jeri Thompson, Katie Palmer (Jon); one son, Jeff Keller; a special daughter, Emily Binder (Bob); seven grandchildren, Robert Keller (Ashley), Corinne Keller, (partner, John Kustow) Sarah Keller Lingross (Israel), Joshua Keller (Lexie), Frank Brandt (Alison), Hayden Thompson, Sammy Thompson, and Elizabeth Palmer; five great grandchildren, Zoey Keller, Evelyn Keller, Noah Keller, Samuel Keller and Autumn Brandt.

He was preceded in death by his father, Adam V. Keller; his mother, Dorothy (Goodge) Keller; and one son, Michael A. Keller.

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, his hobbies and the band he loved. —Stephanie Penick, PN

Original Post, Aug. 7, 2023 / Unless you’ve been living under the rock in Central Park that stands near Court Place on the former site of the first DuPage County Court House, you’re aware that Naperville Municipal Band Conductor Ron Keller has decided to move into a Director Emeritus role at the end of the summer season.

After 57 years of leadership, mostly on stage in Central Park across from the historic rock that commemorates the DuPage County Centennial in 1939, Keller’s last concert as NMB Conductor will be August 10. Afterward, the Naperville native will assume his future role as Director Emeritus.

A large rock in Central Park that stands on the site of the first DuPage County Court House holds a plaque commemorating the DuPage County Centennial in 1939. Local historian Bryan Ogg notes if looking closely, the historic monument appears to be sinking.

What many band fans might not know about the “Tubaman,” as Keller’s license plate proclaims, is that he has many interests beyond music that date back to his childhood. At the drop of a band conductor’s hat, the gifted storyteller connects with fellow gardeners, anglers and model train collectors. Mention dogs and his list of beloved pets is long and several of their names sound like items on a bakery menu. Consider Cookie, Taffy and Brownie.

Encouraged to recall some of those dog days for this August story, Keller reminisced about Muffy, a Boston Terrier; Samantha (We called her “Sam.”), a black Labrador; and Sandy, a golden retriever.

“Sam was as good as you can get on a leash,” Keller recalled. “Yet, off her leash, she’d take off. She even played hide ‘n seek outside in the dark.”

Thoughts of Sandy conjured up memorable visits from Meryl Evans who led the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus Band for 50 years. Keller considered Evans to be one of the best band directors in the world and was pleased to entertain him at his home whenever he visited Naperville as a special guest conductor.

Beginning with Evans’ first of many visits at Keller’s home in 1976, Sandy showed great affection for the welcomed conductor, especially at bedtime. In fact, Sandy jumped right up on the bed with Evans, to his great delight, Keller said. “Evans loved dogs!”

Long story short, Keller reminisced about a letter his family had received after one of Evans’ visits that began, “Dear Sandy, Ron and all.”

Keller went on to say the only pet to sound off when he was teaching music lessons was howling Muffy.

ANN GOOD LORD and RON KELLER have been pals since they lived in the same neighborhood, always sharing a love for storytelling and music. Together, they’ve attracted audiences to Central Park since 1966.

Naperville Musical Legend Becomes Director Emeritus

In his new role, Dr. Keller will remain active with the NMB. He’ll serve as guest conductor from time-to-time and assist the NMB Board and new conductors in a variety of ways. 

Keller’s dedication to music education and the City band leaves a lasting legacy to Naperville, members of the community and the entire music profession, lauded Cindy Neumann, Manager of the Naperville Municipal Band, in a news release.

Notably, Keller’s connection with the NMB has spanned several generations of family members. His great-grandfather, Joseph Bapst, was a bugler, played cornet and was the director of the Naperville Band in the 1870s and 1880s.

A new exhibit inside Naperville Bank & Trust, Washington at Benton, highlights the musical career of Naperville Municipal Band Conductor RON KELLER. Stop by the bank during business hours to note “Marches, Melodies & Music,” a display of artifacts arranged by local historian Bryan Ogg that showcases Keller’s many family connections to the City band that dates back more than 164 years. The exhibit will be up through September 2023.

Both Ron Keller’s mother and father played in the Naperville Band for many years. His mother played marimba, cornet, baritone and alto horn, while his dad played alto horn and occasionally cornet.

Keller’s wife, Vicki, plays clarinet in the band today and his daughters, Katie and Diana, both have been members of the band in the past.

Born in 1939 and raised in Naperville, Keller attended Naperville schools and began playing tuba in the school band in third grade.

Keller’s storytelling has enchanted generations, dating back to tales of learning to play the tuba, an instrument that was certainly bigger than he was when he first selected it to play. He shouldered it and marched around the gym while playing. Despite its size, Keller had found the instrument that would fuel his musical career and legacy. He also plays cornet, French horn, trombone and clarinet; a true musician and educator who mastered many instruments.

Keller with NMB totals more than 70 years

Keller recalls first appearing with the NMB as a soloist in 1951 and becoming a member of the NMB tuba section in junior high, always encouraged by his mentor, long-time NMB director Elmer Koerner.

Following the untimely death of Elmer Koerner in 1965, Keller became director in 1966. Since becoming the NMB director, Keller has poured his energy into developing the NMB into one of the premiere adult music organizations in the country.

He transitioned the band to playing year-round, adding four indoor concerts each year to the 10 outdoor concerts the band plays during the summer.

Passionate about promoting a life-long love of music, Keller regularly invites young musicians to play with the NMB, schedules joint NMB concerts with area high school bands and founded the Ron Keller Scholarship Award to financially support a young musician who aspires to become a music educator.

Under Keller’s direction, the NMB has received numerous awards and has been featured at several national music conventions. In 1991, the NMB received the prestigious Sudler Silver Scroll Award, presented by the John Philip Sousa Foundation. This award recognizes excellence in community bands, and the NMB was only the fifth such band recognized at that time.

In 2008, the NMB played at the Midwest Band Clinic in Chicago. In 2015, the band was featured as one of the top community bands at the Texas Band Masters Association convention in San Antonio, TX. The band also has played at the Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville, KY on two occasions.

In addition to his involvement with NMB, Keller taught music for more than four decades, beginning in Milledgeville, IL, then Dwight, IL, before returning to teach in Naperville, where he spent the majority of his teaching career.

Keller taught all levels of music instruction: grade school, junior high, high school, college and even church choirs. He was also coordinator of music for the Naperville School District 203 for 18 years, while carrying a full teaching assignment. He earned a B.S. in Music Education from Northern Illinois University, received a Master of Music Education degree from Vandercook College of Music in 1967, and a Doctor of Philosophy music degree from Summit University of Louisiana in 1999.

Keller is nationally recognized as an incredible music educator, musician and community band enthusiast. He has played with professional music organizations, such as the Carson and Barnes Circus in 1988 and the “All Stars” at the Midwest Band Clinic in 1976 under Merle Evans.

In addition, Keller has been an active member of Windjammers Unlimited, an organization dedicated to the preservation of circus music, serving as President from 2007-2011. He has also belonged to the American School Band Directors Association, The Association of Concert Bands (life member and past President), Masonic Lodge, and Burlington Route Historical Society. In addition, Keller previously served as treasurer of the Sister Cities Commission.

In July 2022, Keller and the Naperville Municipal Band were featured in the New York Times, recognizing their performance of the 1812 Overture as a tribute to Independence Day.

The Naperville Municipal Band members and Board of Directors expressed extreme gratitude to Keller for his life-long dedication to the City band.

“Through his leadership, Keller transformed the NMB into one of the premier municipal bands in the nation and fostered a sense of community and purpose for inspiring the life-long love of music among musicians of all ages,” wrote Neumann.

Mayoral candidate SCOTT WEHRLI joined the community and Tubaman RON KELLER during the 2022 Tuba Christmas in downtown Naperville.

Another note

“The foundation of Naperville has been built by dedicated leaders with vision and fortitude,” wrote Mayor Scott Wehrli. “Ron Keller not only led the municipal band, but also spearheaded the efforts to build the Naperville Community Concert Center to replace an aging band shell that was literally falling apart.”

Mayor Wehrli continued, “What you see today, the stage, the performances, the facilities that make music come alive— that’s all part of the Keller legacy.  But it’s the generations of smiles in the audience that define the showman. A career well lived, well played.  Thank you, Ron.”

RON KELLER and his wife VICKI joined members of the Naperville Municipal Band in 2019 to celebrate the band that’s been around since 1859.

Ron’s Retirement Reception / Sun., Aug. 27, 2023

Kindly note a public open house welcomes the community to share memories with Ron Keller and the NMB from 2:30 to 5:30PM Sun., Aug. 27, at the Judd Kendall VFW Post, located at 908 W. Jackson Avenue. Light refreshments will be served. No gifts, please. Simply bring a card or hand-written memory that will help Naperville’s Music Man continue to tell his story. Thank you.

Earlier this year, RON KELLER presented his story to the Naperville Jaycees, informing club members that 20 years ago he’d composed a march, “The Spirit of the Jaycees.” The song commemorated the fact that the service club had contributed $40,000, the largest single donation, to the Community Concert Center, a new facility dedicated in 2003. (Photo courtesy Chad Pedigo)
Pictured here in Central Park, Assistant Conductor EMILY BINDER and Conductor RON KELLER also led the band during the dedication of the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in Veterans Park. Upon Keller’s retirement to assume duties as Director Emeritus, Binder will become Director.

The other side(s) of Ronald Keller

Special comments and photo submitted by Bernie Slupik, Aug. 8. 2023

I am privileged to know Ron Keller. Ron has been a pillar of our community and has put back so much to Naperville. My first experience with Ron was 36 years ago when my daughter began her band participation in 4th grade in the Naperville school system and she received encouragement from him. My experience in knowing Ron goes all the way through the current day when Ron’s dedication to entertaining Naperville residents with glorious band music. He has given the Naperville population so much to enjoy and be proud of. 

However, I also know a different Ron Keller. Ron Keller, the Green Bay Packers fan; Ron Keller, the storyteller; Ron Keller, the Naperville historian; Ron Keller, the master angler; Ron Keller, the train enthusiast. 

Photo courtesy Bernie Slupik

The list goes on and on encompassing many facets of this amazing man. But perhaps one of my favorite experiences with Ron was when he helped our group of Animal Assisted Therapy volunteers at a local nursing home where we entertained residents and gave them a Valentine’s Day party and celebration of a therapy dog graduation in February of 2020.  Ron joined right in, visiting with residents, telling stories, and providing dog visits with the residents. It was as if he had done this all his life and he did not hesitate to provide comfort to the residents.

Photo courtesy Bernie Slupik

Yes, Ron Keller is a man of many talents.  I am proud to have witnessed so many of those talents and cannot wait to learn even more of them. —Bernie Slupik

Final Note…Retirement Party Planners

Tables at the Judd Kendall VFW were filled with folks sharing fond memories with Dr. Ron Keller as he assumes duties as Director Emeritus for the Naperville Municipal Band. Fun-loving Bernie Slupik, Gail Diedrichsen and Ted Slupik planned the party for their longtime friend.

Last updated, Jan. 28, 2024.

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PN Editor
PN Editor
An editor is someone who prepares content for publishing. It entered English, the American Language, via French. Its modern sense for newspapers has been around since about 1800.
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