Editor's Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Keller's birth year/age. It has been corrected to include the correct information.
Legend is an often-used descriptor in society these days, though some would argue without proper justification. Few, however, can argue that Trinity Catholic Schools’ family lost a true legend on Tuesday.
Kenneth (Ken) Keller, the former English teacher, head basketball coach, football coach and athletic director, died from complications stemming from his battle with cancer. According to those that knew him best, he passed in his home with family by his side.
Keller, 76, was born on November 20, 1943 to George and Dorothy Keller and was a Dickinson native and lifetime supporter of the Trinity Titans. For over 50 years, he worked within the athletic and teaching departments of the school, always finding ways to inspire youth while turning any situation into a teaching moment — both inside and outside the classroom.
Keller was known as a hardworking and well-respected coach on the basketball court and spent countless hours under the Friday night lights as a football coach as well.
“He simply built a legacy,” Greg Grinsteinner, the current head coach of the boys’ basketball team and current athletic director for Trinity, and former athlete, student, and colleague under Keller, said. “He had things done a certain way, he was a people person. He got along with so many people, he kind of set the standard for us.”
Keller was mainly known for his role in the Trinity school district, but he was a man of many hats. Keller’s passion centered as much on sports as it did on spending time educating other students at different school districts, primarily within the Killdeer School district.
“Everybody in the South Western part of the state knew what (Keller) was all about,” Grinsteinner said. “He was always one of those guys that led by example. He truly left a legacy, you can replace people physically, but all the other intangibles that he brought to this school, that’s what people talk about, when they talk about Ken Keller. Keller was the head basketball coach from the early 1970’s to the early 1980’s, and he also served as a football coach, teacher and athletic director in the past. Keller also played a key role that helped the school move down from Class A to Class B in 1991.
After a strong decade of success in the 2000s era for Trinity athletics, Keller retired from teaching and coaching in 2006.
Craig Kovash, another former player, student, and colleague of Keller said that his talents of teaching and coaching were perfectly blended together to help bring success to those that had Keller as a coach and teacher.
“Teaching and coaching really go together,” Kovash said. “In order to be a good coach, you have to be a good teacher, and to be a good teacher you have to be a good coach."
For some people, the idea of relaxing and doing nothing but enjoying life is tougher than others. For Keller, his relaxation came from the students and being affiliated with the local athletics taking place within the school. Allowing for the current generation of students at Trinity High School to get to know the man who made the name Titans such a respectable one within the Western Edge and throughout the state of North Dakota.
“Even after he retired, he was a substitute teacher at the high school … It’s almost like he never left, he was here helping out with tournaments or subbing,” Kovash said.
In July, the Trinity School district honored Keller by naming the gym inside of the Knights of Columbus Activities Center at Trinity High School, Ken Keller Court, where Keller's family, friends, staff members and former players attended. For some, it was the last time they would see Keller again.
“This is all kind of … I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet that this has actually happened,” Kovash said. “It was like we just saw him a few weeks ago when we were here to dedicate the floor to him,” Kovash said. “It’s hard to believe that he’s not around anymore.”
Trinity volleyball head coach Breanna Sisson talked about what Keller meant to her after the Titans’ home opener against Shiloh Christian on Tuesday, in which the team honored Keller by grabbing a dominant 3-0 sweep.
“He’s been a great mentor, I’ve known him for a really long time,” Sisson said. “He always gave me good advice when I needed it, and he’s always just been a big supporter of mine.”
Those that know, or met Keller, will always remember the noble and honorable man who treated everyone with respect, honored his religion, and truly fought cancer like a true Titan.
Keller was preceded in death by his parents, George and Dorothy. He is survived by his wife of 57 years, LaVonne; his children, DeLana (Rick) Boll; Brian (Ann) Keller; Trish (Patrick) Martin; Jennifer (Gene) Clark; grandchildren, Ashley (Nick) Leintz; Mack (Michelle) Keller, Brady and Courtney Boll, Oakley, Maguire, and Rivers Martin; Easton Clark; great-grandchildren, Cullen and Harper Leintz; brothers; Maynard (Linda), Ron (Edna), and Darin (Nancee), several nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends.
Visitation will be held on Friday, Sept. 11, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Stevenson Funeral Home with a Rosary and Vigil Service taking place at 6 p.m.
The funeral mass for Keller is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 12, at 9:30 a.m. at Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Dickinson.