EFFINGHAM — Charles F. “Chuck” Keller, a visionary and a 2017 nominee for the Effingham Daily News Citizen of the Year, died on his 80th birthday Tuesday.
The local businessman and long-time politician died at HSHS St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital at 6:26 p.m., said Effingham County Coroner Kim Rhodes.
Keller built on the entrepreneurial tradition started by his parents that helped Effingham expand, from Keller Oil Company and Keller Development company to a successful convention center and other businesses that brought jobs and drew people to the city.
Thelma Keller Convention Center Director Patty Greene, who has worked with the Keller family since 1988, said Chuck Keller's vision was spot on, and he was not afraid to take chances.
“When the convention center was set to open in April 1988, Thelma, his mother, said there was no way that this would ever have an impact on the community,” said Greene. “Chuck, however, differed. And as we have seen for the past 30 years, Chuck’s vision was right.”
She added the convention center is the go-to place for tens of thousands of people annually.
“With over 150,000 to 160,000 people that come through the convention center doors each year — from dream weddings, conventions from all over the state, trade-shows, and reunions – his vision has been a very large impact on the Effingham community,” said Greene.
Mayor Jeff Bloemker said Keller's vision for Effingham paid off.
"Chuck Keller's death represents the end of an immediate family unit that was an icon in Effingham for entrepreneurship, business development, success and community pride,” said Bloemker. “Chuck and his parents, Lolami and Thelma Keller, helped put Effingham on the map.”
Bloemker said "their business, their political connections and their vision led to investments in Effingham that paid off in spades for all of us. We can never thank Chuck Keller and his family enough for what they have done for this community.”
In addition to being a businessman, in his early years Keller was involved in the Illinois Young Democrats and in the campaign and election of President John F. Kennedy. He was also elected to five consecutive terms to the Illinois House of Representatives from 1968-1977.
Those who knew Keller also remember his generosity.
“I can personally say that Chuck was a devout Catholic and was always a kind and generous man who gave of his time, talent and treasure to Sacred Heart Parish,” said Christy Hakman, marketing and development director at Sacred Heart Parish. “Some of his children and grandchildren attended Sacred Heart School, and he was also a great support for the school.”
In a 2017 Effingham Daily News Citizen of the Year nomination letter, Greg Kemper of Effingham said Keller had a generous religious spirit, noting he and his wife, Doris, spent a year in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina, helping wherever they could.
“Chuck Keller's skill is unmatched in looking at cornfields and seeing truckstops, hotel chains, convention centers, first-class restaurants and gas stations. But, it is not all about profit,” wrote Kemper in his nomination of Keller.
Keller also provided opportunity.
The Keller family hosted German-born exchange student and basketball stand-out, Uwe Blab, who helped lead the Effingham High School team to second place at the state tournament in 1980, and who then later went on to be a German professional basketball player.
Greene said everyone who knew Chuck Keller would know that he loved life and his family.
“Chuck knew what he wanted and how he wanted things done. He would go above and beyond and just when you would think it could not be done, he would pull it off,” said Greene. “Chuck has many wonderful people, dedicated employees, and family that helped accomplish his dreams. You did not receive the ordinary ... it was extraordinary to say the least.”
From the well-known, over-the-top Christmas displays at the Thelma Keller Convention Center, to award-winning facilities that he has developed, and to his latest accomplishment of the Hofbräuhaus restaurant near Belleville, his legacy will continue to live on, she said.
“Rest in peace, good son of Effingham,” said Bloemker.
Click here for his obituary.
Dawn Schabbing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-347-7151, ext. 138