LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT: Oscar and Elderlene Keller have built legacy of service
For all of their joint success throughout 71 years of marriage, Oscar and Elderlene Keller count their family as their greatest accomplishment and asset.
To date, their clan consists of three children, nine grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren — all of whom were born into a legacy of community service.
“I think we’ve all worked together and accomplished a lot of good for the public and ourselves,” Oscar said. “Personally, I’m proud of it.”
The couple’s manifold contributions encompass areas as diverse as health care, banking, transportation and civic organizations — for which they have been recognized with The Herald’s Lifetime Achievement Award for 2012.
“I think it’s absolutely great to honor both of us with anything,” Oscar said of the distinction. “We’ve both been here many years, and we’ve served the public, and we think we’ve done a good job with it.”
The 91-year-old Jonesboro native said he and his wife, now 89, have been “lucky from the day we were married ... and we have strived every day since then to have a reputation in this community.” Family members describe Oscar as a “self-made man” who started in the workforce as a meat cutter and whose background also includes stints as a heavy machinery supervisor during World War II, salesman for a bakery and chemical company, president and owner of Fast-Lane convenience stores and owner and operator of a restaurant in Aberdeen. Elderlene has worked as as a radio station manager and as a bookkeeper for the U.S. Marines during World War II and for Sprott Brothers Furniture before entering the nursing field.
Since the 1950s, the pair have been pioneers in the health care industry. They built, owned, operated and leased Keller Nursing Home from 1959 to 1996 — one of the first such facilities built in the state. They followed with Lenoir Nursing Home in Kinston, which they leased and operated until 1971.
To the present, the Kellers retain ownership of multiple facilities and services, including Oakhaven Retirement Home, Oakhaven Retirement Home II, Keller Family Care Home, Parkview Retirement Center and Parkview In-Home Aide Service. The service provides aid to residents of Lee, Chatham and Harnett counties and was the first licensed in-home aide service in Lee County.
License number one for N.C. nursing home administrators is in Oscar’s name, and he has served the industry in numerous capacities — acting as former chairman of the N.C. Board of Examiners for Nursing Home Administrators and being named a board member to the National Association of Boards of Examiners for Nursing Homes. Elderlene is a former secretary for the N.C. Nursing Home Association.
Today, said their daughter Judy Normann, the Kellers’ health care operations employ more than 250 people. Normann and her sister, Linda Kelly, now work in the facilities as administrators.
“We have many employees who have been with us 25 years or more,” Normann said, “which I think speaks highly.”
Oscar blazed trails in the banking field as well, founding and formerly chairing the boards of directors for Triangle and Capital Bank. He served on boards of directors for other institutions, too, including Carolina Bank, Branch Banking and Trust, Mid-South and Centura Bank and Trust.
Reflecting on these achievements, Oscar said, “I’m most proud of the fact that I started something, I stayed with it, and I’m still with it.” As a well-known local businessman, Keller has counted many prominent citizens as friends and acquaintances, including several governors and late Herald founder and publisher emeritus Bill Horner Sr.
“I played golf with him; I learned a lot from him,” he said of Horner. “He had great ideas, and he didn’t mind telling you what he thought about anything.”
Aside from their professional resumes, the Kellers have a long history of community involvement — which includes, but is not limited to, several local Baptist churches. Elderlene was once a PTO president and Eastern Star member, and her love of the arts found an outlet in the Sanford Brush and Palette Club.
Oscar, a longtime member of the Masonic Lodge, was also formerly active in the Sanford Jaycees and the boards for the Bread Basket, the Lee County Recreation and Environmental Health boards and the Central Carolina Community College Foundation Board. He also worked with the contractor that oversaw construction of the Boys & Girls Clubs and assisted in securing grants.
In recognition of Oscar’s status as a local leader, and acknowledgment of his role in coordinating the project, a segment of the U.S. 421 bypass was named as the Oscar Keller Jr. Highway in his honor in 2008.
“He’s done more for Sanford and Lee County than anybody I know, and most people don’t know it” real estate agent and friend Albert Adcock said at the time. “He goes and gets things done when they need to be done.”
And while no one would blame the pair for taking it easy, family members say the Kellers remain very much involved in their family enterprises.
“He beats us to work every morning,” daughter Normann said, adding that Oscar reports for duty each day at 8 a.m. and won’t leave until after 5 p.m.
Praising her parents’ strength and work ethic, Kelly said, “We love what we do, all of us, or we wouldn’t do it.”
For Elderlene, the greatest of life’s joys is “having all our children around us, being able to work and still help people.”
Oscar said he and his wife have lived to see many of their dreams come to fruition through dedication and hard work. While he said he hopes to see the rest of the bypass completed, he appraises the past and the present with satisfaction.
“I’ve got a great life,” he said, “no complaints.”