Above / “The Great Concerto” by artist Barton Gunderson is a tribute to the history of the Naperville Municipal Band that dates back to 1859. This closeup focuses on a young 27-year-old Ron Keller who began leading the band in 1966. Also recognize Conductor Keller in 2002, shovel in hands, portrayed during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Naperville Community Concert Center in Central Park.
Winter, spring, summer or fall, day or night, “The Great Concerto” mural reflects the wonderful way music has played a big part in the lives of Naperville families since 1859.
On Feb. 3, 2024, Wentz Concert Hall provided the stage for “A Service to Worship God and to Remember and Celebrate the Life of Dr. Ronald James Keller.” Born in Naperville on Feb. 24, 1939, the longtime educator, tuba player and director of the Naperville Municipal Band, died on January 24, 2024. He was 84.
Rev. David Voll, Interim Pastor at the First Congregational Church of Christ, officiated.
Memorable thoughts, poems, Psalm 150, scripture readings and music helped portray Keller’s zest for life marked by true dedication, family, service, patriotism, community spirit and a passion for storytelling.
Mayor Scott Wehrli was first to present his words of remembrance, followed by Naperville Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis, NMB members Russ Bigelow and Howard Habenicht, NMB Director Emily Binder, NMB Assistant Director Bill Jastrow as well as other friends Tom Miers and Patrick Sweeten.
Entertaining tributes were dedicated to different facets of Keller’s wide range of interests including family history connected to the 150-year-old Naperville Fire Department, fishing, summer retreats, Windjammers Unlimited, circus music, teaching, tuba lessons, trains and John Philip Sousa marches.
Keller’s granddaughter, Elle Palmer, performed a piano solo, Für Elise by Ludwig van Beethoven.
Vocal soloists Catherine Lord and Christopher Lorimer performed to the piano accompaniment of Valerie Lorimer.
Under the leadership of NMB Director Binder, the Naperville Municipal Band Ensemble performed several spirited songs, including the rousing march composed by Keller in 1967 titled “The Naperville Municipal Band March.”
Family and friends in attendance also were reminded of Keller’s patriotism and his commitment to remember the debt owned to Veterans and their families. Binder noted that recognition will continue.
With thoughtful reverence to end the ceremony that celebrated a wonderful life, Rev. Voll sang beautifully, “O when the saints go marching in, O when the saints go marching in, O Lord, I want to be in that number when the saints go marching in.”
Naperville Mayor Scott Wehrli Remembers Dr. Ronald Keller
It’s an honor to be here tonight to celebrate the life of our friend, Dr. Ronald Keller.
A true showman, motivated by the energy of a great audience, he’d be excited to see such a wonderful crowd gathered in front to this stage tonight.
And as I look out and see so many friends, family and neighbors, all with your own Ron Keller stories, my heart is full knowing that his life’s work, his passion for our fair City of Naperville, will never be forgotten.
It is our job—each and every one of us—to carry those traits forward as we pay tribute to the man that we are honoring tonight.
Every good story has a beginning and an end, be it a day, a season, a well-composed march… or a life.
Let’s start with a unique beginning. Five generations ago, a Keller chose to marry a Wehrli. Or maybe a Wehrli chose to marry a Keller. You heard that right. Ron wasn’t joking with he referred to me as “cousin.”
On a warm summer Thursday evening in Central Park, the sound of children laughing as they ran through the grass on a lawn filled with benches and lawn chairs. A bake sale, picnic baskets and hundreds of smiling faces—some with eyes open, some closed—feeling the notes played on stage.
The sun sets in hues of red, white, orange and blue as the band plays on in harmony, all thanks to Ron’s passion for music. A quick bow and a wink of an eye, then on to another march, another stage, another season.
Ron was a real-life character that appeared to step out of a Norman Rockwell painting. He believed in the power of faith, family, community, education and art in the form of music. He was Americana. His life, authentic.
It was Ron’s devotion to music that literally changed the landscape of this city—twice.
He carried the baton during the construction of both the Elmer Koerner Band Shell in 1966 and the Naperville Community Concert Center in 2003.
He knew that working with city leaders and stressing to them why a municipal band was so important would improve both residents’ lives and our city’s image.
At least nine different mayors, me included, would have the privilege of working with Ron. And even at 83 years old, he told detailed stories about every one of them.
The importance of dignity bestowed upon our annual Memorial Day Parade is a testament to Ron’s commitment to help organize its lineup and tributes to respect our fallen soldiers.
And even at his retirement, he would focus on others and never himself.
In his 57 years of directing the Naperville Municipal Band and making it nationally known wasn’t enough. He also gave back to this City be volunteering for the Sister Cities Commission.
And so, while Ron’s time with the baton may have ended, a musician never wants to hear silence.
The generations of young musicians he taught in our city have carried on his legacy with their own children, grandchildren and students.
Maybe the fifth generation, third cousins of his students, will even learn to play an instrument or compose a song, thanks to Ron.
And so we have our ending… But…
While Ron’s passing ends his individual march, it does not end his impact as a band director, educator and community leader.
He was a pillar of our great city who has left us generations of fond memories and a future filled with talent.
We’ll measure his life in the number of hearts touched, smiles made and notes played.
And as I told him a couple weeks ago on what would be the time we spoke, “I love you, Cousin. We’ll see you again soon.”
To Vicki and family: Thank you for sharing “The Director, the Tubaman,” with us. All of Naperville mourns with you.
—Mayor Scott Wehrli
Dr. Ronald James Keller, February 24, 1939 – January 24, 2024
Ron Keller not only will be remembered for his dedication to the Naperville Municipal Band, he also taught music for more than four decades after earning his bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University. His first teaching position was in Milledgeville, IL, then Dwight, IL, then Naperville. In Naperville, he taught all levels of music instruction, elementary through college, with the majority of his time at Jefferson Junior High School in Naperville School District 203. He also directed church choirs.
Keller received his master’s degree in Music Education from Vandercook College of Music in 1967, followed by a Doctor of Philosophy degree in music from Summit University in Louisiana in 1999.
In addition, Keller was an active member of Windjammers Unlimited, American School Band Directors Association, Association of Concert Bands, the Naperville Masonic Lodge, and the Burlington Route Historical Society.
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.