Next Saturday, family and friends will gather to remember Francis “Frank” Keller. Tonight, they’re sharing the story of his life – from statewide political involvement to a woodworking hobby that inspired a public artwork you’ve likely seen:
Born on May 1, 1924, in Mitchell, South Dakota, he attended a one-room school house and worked on his parents’ farm until he left home as a teenager. Frank hitchhiked across the country to Seattle, finally settling in Bremerton in the 1940s. He joined the Navy at 18, during World War II, and was sent to serve in the Pacific on the USS South Dakota.
In 1944, he returned to Bremerton and married Viola (Sally) Gonzales. They had a child, Patricia Lee, and ran a restaurant on Bainbridge Island named The Hi Shoppe. It was the place to hang out then.
Frank and Sally divorced in 1945, and Frank went to work for Pepsi. He married Betty Horton in the 1950s. While working as a truck driver at Pepsi, he commuted to Seattle University on the ferry at night, earning his Bachelor’s degree in Finance in 1961. He had three children then, Cindy, Francine and Mary Lisa. By that time, Frank had been attracted by the excitement of politics. He was selling insurance to support his family, but also got involved in local election campaigns. The family increased by one, with the birth of his son, Robert. Betty passed away in 1964.
At this time, Frank was elected State Chair of the Democratic Party and he relocated his whole family to the house in West Seattle in 1965. He married Carol Grabner in 1965, and they were married until 1968.
Frank continued his commitment to politics and was Democratic State Chairman throughout the 60’s, when he managed the reelection campaigns of US Senator Warren Magnuson, gubernatorial campaigns of Albert Rosellini and Dixy Lee Ray, as well as fundraising and doing advance work for the presidential campaigns of Robert and Ted Kennedy, then Henry Jackson. It was an exciting life, and Frank was the chair of the Washington State delegation to the Democratic convention several times. He even attended the Presidential Inauguration of President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
At the end of the ’60s, Frank tried to settle down to more stable work, first working for the newly formed Office of Emergency Preparedness, but being a bureaucrat was not his calling. He eventually went back to Pepsi as sales manager for Glacier Beverages in Rainier Valley, where he met the love of his life, Joanne Welch. They married in 1969, and the Keller clan became a family of 9, adding Carolann and Jim, launching Frank into his next chapter. All the younger six kids lived in the house until reaching adulthood, then came back often with their children and even grandchildren.
Frank got laid off from Pepsi in the ’70s. He used his political and business experience as an opportunity to launch a consulting and lobbying venture. He enjoyed much success with such clients as the Washington State Superior Court Judges, the beverage industry, the vending machine industry, among others. He was named several times to the list of Top Lobbyists in Washington State. Frank was known as a straight talking, honest person, and always told it like he saw it.
When Frank retired from politics and lobbying, he took up woodworking, reaching back to his younger days as an apprentice cabinetmaker. He started making wooden toys, wooden ornaments, jewelry boxes, and even furniture. All from scrap wood that he would find in different places, and has supplied so many family and friends with his amazing creations. He has given toys to many organizations that help children, hoping to bring some happiness to those who might not be as blessed. His fire truck gift to the West Seattle Fire Station was the inspiration for the artist who created the West Seattle Fire Station 32 sculpture, unveiled just this past year.
Frank and Joanne also did some traveling, going back and forth to Hawaii almost every year, among other places. Frank also spent many years going to the West Seattle YMCA for his daily workout and sauna, and became somewhat of a fixture there.
When Joanne had her stroke in 2001, Frank assumed the role of devoted caretaker. He would be by her side daily, ever diligent to make sure that Joanne had what she needed. They were the storybook example of love, and his world revolved around her until she left us in 2008.
After Joanne passed, Frank was lifted up by the love of his family. He would get joy from watching all the grandchildren grow up and celebrate their life landmarks. He even was able to hold and play with his great granddaughter, which brought him so much happiness. He would sit in the living room nightly, sipping his bourbon (or two), eating his chocolates and watching CNN. He would have questions or comments about the state of the world, and would let us know what he thought.
Frank Keller lived large — he filled up the room when he was in it. There is a big gap in our lives now that he is gone, but the lessons he taught and the memories he made will be with us always. Go in peace, Dad, we love you and miss you.
Frank’s memorial Mass is on Saturday, January 20th, 11 am, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in West Seattle. In lieu of flowers, Frank’s family would ask that donations be made to Wounded Warrior Project or the Seattle YMCA
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