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A lifetimeof service

Robert and Phyllis Keller of Brimfield retiring

By KELLY MAILE Staff Writer Published: July 10, 2017 4:00 AM
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For most of their lives, husband and wife Robert and Phyllis Keller have been serving people in the community, working with youth in the schools and church, volunteering as house parents to troubled juveniles and starting a gift delivery and senior luncheon in Brimfield.

Some people call it community service, but it has been engrained in Robert, Brimfield's former fire chief and current township executive, from an early age.

"As long as he was physically able, my father served on the volunteer fire department in Kingsville (in Ashtabula County)," said Robert, who joined his hometown fire department as a volunteer firefighter at age 15. "Being around him and the fire department I learned a great deal about community service. It was just helping out and doing what you could in different ways."

In the 1970s, Robert was in one of the first EMT classes offered in the state and became one of the first certified paramedics in Ohio. He met Phyllis in high school and they became house parents to juveniles in the Ashtabula County Court System. They built a house in Brimfield in 1986. Robert earned a degree in chemistry from Kent State University and was hired as a full-time firefighter and paramedic in Kent while Phyllis got a job as a secretary in the elementary school. She's worked for 27 years in the Kent City School District. Both of them are retiring this fall after 35 years of service to the area.

"I loved working with the kids," Phyllis said. "When you're an elementary secretary, ... you just do a little bit of everything."

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Robert was promoted to lieutenant and ran the Fire Prevention Bureau in Kent and was the operations director of the Portage County Hazmat Team. From time to time, he will be approached by people who remember when he saved them or their child from a car accident or fire.

"I've gotten to know so many people in town," Robert said. "Its been a very rewarding carer both as firefighter, the fire inspector in Kent, township executive and the Hazmat Team."

When Robert was hired as fire chief in 2003 in Brimfield, there "was a combination of a couple full-time firefighters, part-time firefighters and volunteers. The station wasn't staffed 24 hours a day." He heard stories from neighboring communities where calls never got answered by Brimfield firefighters.

As chief, Keller ensured every firefighter was trained as an advanced paramedic and the station was staffed at all times. He also started the senior luncheon, a popular social event for seniors held in the fire bay each September, and the Santa on the Fire Truck gift delivery to children at Christmas.

"Traditionally that's not a function of the fire department, but it's something we can do for the children and they'll always remember that," Robert said. "There's a lot of young families in Brimfield. There's always those extra things we want to do to connect and do something extra in the community."

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And Phyllis is always working by his side trying to make the community better.

"I'm the worker bee," she said. "A lot of it I attribute to having a strong background in our faith. You just automatically help somebody. There's no second thought about it. Someone's sick, take them a meal. It's just what we do."

Now they've watched their daughters -- one who is a parent to five children in the foster care system and the other who helps people out of poverty -- take after them in helping where they can.

"We're so proud of them for what they've accomplished because it's not something we've pushed," Robert said. "They got involved in community service, but they never thought of it as that."

While their children were in the school, Robert served for 15 years on the Field Board of Education, during the time the new elementary schools were built. He now volunteers at the Brimfield Food Cupboard and Phyllis volunteers for the Brimfield Historical Society. She helped bring the Ohio Chautauqua to Brimfield last summer for the first time and is working on several fundraising activities.

Robert retired as fire chief in 2015 and became Brimfield's first township executive. He oversees all the department heads and was instrumental in hiring the current police and fire chief. One of his biggest projects as township executive was working in the road department and passing a road levy to resurface township roads.

"The township had gotten quite behind on keeping up with the roads," Robert said. "There's been a lot of new roads added and roads had just gotten in poor repair. We're able to apply for grants and leverage local levy money and use state money to do some of the bigger roads and more expensive projects we haven't been able to do in the past."

When they retire, Robert and Phyllis plan to travel in an RV to all 50 states and spend time in national parks, from Sequoia National Forest in California to Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.

"I have an uncle in his 80s who told me last October 'you need to do that while you can,'" Phyllis said. "He's losing his eyesight, so he's losing his ability to drive. He said do it now while you can."


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