Global Ministries shares the news of the passing of former mission co-worker, Robert Keller
In the early morning hours of Saturday, September 10, 2022, Robert Samuel Keller (Bob) passed peacefully from this life, joining his “darling Dee” in heaven. The last weeks of his life were spent at his home in Brattleboro, Vermont, surrounded by family.
In death as in life, Bob was calm, steady, and courageous, expressing deep gratitude for all his many blessings. Throughout his 92 years on Earth, he remained a good and faithful servant.
Bob was born at his family home in Darke County, Ohio, on June 18, 1930, the first of 6 sons to Fannye Jean (Hawbaker) and Raymond Theodore Keller. Like so many who grew up in rural, depression-era America, Bob’s childhood was filled with family, hard work, and diligent study. As a boy when not working on the family farm, Bob developed a curiosity for the lessons of his church and his classes at Gettysburg (Ohio) schools. He joined the church youth group and began to serve in leadership roles, a thread that would run throughout his whole life.
Though he found meaning in the hard work on the farm (once remembering that he tolerated his quite unpleasant summer job delivering coal to homes in the county by keeping his mind’s gaze on the warmth and comfort it would provide the families during the long, cold winter), his keen intellect, profound curiosity, and commitment to being a messenger of the Word, led him to further his study at Manchester College (Indiana), graduating with a degree in Sociology in 1952. He then earned a master’s degree in Social and Technical Assistance from Haverford College in 1953, and later earned a Master of Social Service degree from Bryn Mawr in 1960.
As a devout follower of Christ’s pacifist teachings of the New Testament, Bob’s alternative service as a conscientious objector took him to Turkey, where he met Dorothy Birge. Upon deciding to marry, Bob wrote to his mother about their commitment, saying “the richest fulfillment of our lives will be as we work together, sharing our love with the world” and praying that their union may help them “seek to create a greater wholeness.” Bob and Dee married August 6, 1955, and built a life full of love, acceptance, and wonder through their more than 65 years together.
Bob and Dee served as mission co-workers in central Turkey through what is today known as Global Ministries, returning to the United States with their family of 4 children in 1964. Bob enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Michigan and completed his PhD in Sociology and Social Work in 1970. He taught and served as Associate Dean of the School of Social Work at the Ohio State University until becoming the Academic Dean in 1978 at his alma mater, Manchester College, in North Manchester, Indiana. Bob was a gifted administrator, thoughtful in his focus on detail and honoring of institutional norms and procedures, yet without ever losing sight of the very humans these institutions were designed to serve. His profound impact on his students and the institutions he served mark a legacy of excellence and deep concern for helping others reach their God-given potential.
After retiring in 1996, Bob and Dee directed college exchange programs in Sapporo, Japan; Dalian, China; and Cochin, India. In response to the devastating earthquake of 2000, Bob and Dee were called by Global Ministries to return to Turkey, where Bob served as the Consultant Executive Liaison Officer for SEV (Health and Education Foundation) of the Near East Mission. While there, they assisted with the transition of mission schools of the United Church of Christ to local administration. Retiring from the mission in 2004, Bob and Dee settled in Brattleboro, Vermont. They remained very active in local and regional ecumenical initiatives, including helping to spearhead the commitment of the Town of Brattleboro to become a signatory community to the Charter for Compassion. As firm believers in the Oneness of God’s Creation, Bob and Dee sought to forge connections with peoples of all faith traditions as they worked to do their part to help build God’s Kingdom on Earth. Their generosity in providing of their money and time to the causes they felt so strongly about will continue to provide for the change they hoped to bring to this oftentimes broken world.
Bob truly embodied the biblical message from Micah to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. Bob dedicated his professional life to education, often remarking how he began a new school year each year from 1936 until 1999, during which time he developed a deep passion for knowledge and exploration of ideas and living out the ideal of his beloved alma mater: Faith, Learning, and Service. Bob will be remembered for his calm yet resolute presence, his steadfast commitment to service of others, his disciplined health practices, his commitment to environmental and social justice causes, and his unwavering love for his family and all God’s children. Bob’s last words for us, his family, and to all, was to “keep the love flowing.”
Bob is survived by children and their spouses: Karen Horn (Don), Kate Butterfield (Jed), Lisa Keller (Jim Bedard), John Keller (Kristin); grandchildren & their spouses: Kristen Butterfield-Ferrell (Lu), Rachael Hancock (Anthony), Megan Butterfield (fiancé George Sprague), Seth Marcil, Haley Marcil, Colin Horn, Ana Keller, Jacob Keller; great-granddaughters Amelia and Adalyn Hancock; brothers John, Karl, and Kevin; cousins, nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his wife, Dee; parents Raymond and Fannye; and brothers Teddy and Bill.
A memorial service for Bob was held at Centre Congregational Church of Brattleboro, Vermont, on Saturday, October 8 at 2:00 PM. Gifts can be made in honor of Bob and Dee Keller to the Turkish Philanthropy Funds, online at https://donate.tpfund.org/Dorothy-and-Robert-Keller or by sending a check to Turkish Philanthropy Funds, 1460 Broadway, New York, NY 10036 by indicating “Robert and Dorothy Keller Fund” on the check.