Family ignites Keller's passion for giving
Keller's mother had a passion for tending to the basic needs of the disadvantaged. This became the core mission of the J. J. Keller Foundation, which his parents, Jack and Ethel Keller, started in 1990 in celebration of Ethel's 70th birthday.
In December 2012, the J. J. Keller Foundation hit the $35-million giving mark. The Foundation, which contributed to 75 charitable organizations in 2012 alone, grants nearly $4 million a year for basic needs.
Keller's passion for philanthropy, inspired by his parents, is deeply rooted in two core values—faith and family.
"Our faith encourages helping others in need and mission work," Keller said. "As a child, mom would have us drop off clothes to those in need in our neighborhood. She believed there was a Calcutta in every city."
Keller's mother also set up an emergency medical fund that pays for critical tests and is open to anyone.
"We have received many thank-you letters from people who say these tests have saved their lives," Keller said.
UW Oshkosh also has been a recipient of the Kellers' generosity.
Titan Stadium, originally built in 1970, and the J. J. Keller Field renovations completed in 2011 are two major gifts that the Kellers contributed to UW Oshkosh."As a member of the UWO track and field team, J. J. Keller Field has been a great place for me during the last few years," said College of Business senior Corey Wilch, of Waukesha. "I love competing with such great people and to be able to do so in an amazing facility, such as the J. J. Keller Field, is a luxury very few are lucky enough to have."
The UW Oshkosh men's track and field team recently took second place at the 2013 Indoor National Championship, and Wilch placed fourth in the 400-meter hurdles at nationals in California last season. Wilch attributes his success, in part, to UW Oshkosh's facilities.
The J. J. Keller Courtyard in Sage Hall, another notable contribution by the Keller family, is an outdoor space complete with tables, ample seating, trees, greenery and a copper sculpture as the focal point.
"The courtyard is my favorite place to study between classes in the spring," said senior marketing student Cecilie Wojciehowski, of Marinette. "It provides a calm and relaxing environment for students to unwind after a long day of classes."
Keller said philanthropy is as vital today as it always has been for the Keller family. Many of his family members have set up donor-advised funds at the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation.
The Kellers are not only known for their generous financial contributions to worthy causes but also for giving of their time and energy.
Keller recently was named Executive-In-Residence in the College of Business. The Executive-In-Residence is appointed by the dean to assist with mentoring faculty and students, serving on the College Business Advisory Council, advising college, centers and student groups, counseling area businesses and participating in research projects.
"I'm most looking forward to sharing my experiences and knowledge with the faculty and students in my role as Executive-in-Residence," Keller said.
His passion for philanthropy also comes from what inspires him professionally—the growth and development of people and interesting ventures.
"The more you give, the more you receive in return," Keller said. "J. J. Keller has hired many students from UW Oshkosh. Providing resources that allow these individuals to flourish and thrive are what makes giving back to the community so worth it."
Keller graduated from UW Oshkosh in 1969 with a degree in economics. In 2004, he received the University's Distinguished Alumni Award. He served as president and CEO of J. J. Keller from 1988 until 2006. He remains chair of the company and continues his work with the J. J. Keller Foundation.