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Francis “Frank” deSales Keck II
Frank D. Keck II was born on December 8, 1932 in Champaign, Illinois, and passed away peacefully at home on December 13, 2023, in Overland Park, Kansas. He had just celebrated his 91st birthday and the birth of his first great-grandchild.
The son of Charles E. and Edith Louise Lambert Keck, Frank was the youngest of three children. He attended South Side, Edison, and Champaign (now Central) High Schools.
During WWII, he took up golf at the Champaign Country Club, absorbing the passion of his parents. Always athletic, Frank excelled at varsity basketball and football, serving as quarterback for the Maroons winning season in 1949-50 with an 8-1 record and the Big 12 Conference title. During high school, he lettered all three years and helped the golf team win the Illinois State Championship.
After a stint at the University of Michigan, he returned to Champaign, enrolling in the University of Illinois and Air Force ROTC. He continued to play golf on the U of I team and served as manager for the NCAA championship Gymnastics team, where he met his lifelong friend, Gil Brinkmeyer. In 1952, he first paired up with fellow golfers Bub Bartholow, Pete Fletcher, and Art Wyatt. They would play together as a foursome for over forty years.
Following his 1954 graduation in Marketing from the U of I, Frank began his career in the family business by joining his father Charles at Keck’s Furniture. The store moved from its historic Church Street location to 204 W. University in 1963.
While in USAF Aircraft Maintenance training at Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Frank found plenty of time for golf. The summer of 1955 saw a truly remarkable season of tournaments. Lieutenant Keck triumphed in the Great Lakes Conference, U of I Open, Dick Naughtin Open (now Lake of the Woods), and Champaign County Open. Next came a victory in the Twin City (Champaign-Urbana) Championship for the first time. He also qualified for the All-Air Force World Championships in Langley, Virginia. He was the only person to win all four local tournaments in the same year, and the only person to win the Twin City in three different decades.
While stationed with the USAF at Fürstenfeldbruck, Germany, from March 1956 through November 1957, Frank qualified for both the German and Belgian Opens, placing fourth in the German and a third and a fourth place in the Belgian. He made the final cut on the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland in the 1957 British Open.
In 1963, his medal 69 at the CICC Tourney earned him the privilege of playing with Arnold Palmer in a local exhibition match in Savoy.
Upon completing his service with the Air Force, Frank returned to work with his father as partner and soon assumed the reins as President of Keck’s Furniture, a fixture in Champaign for over 83 years.
After meeting Urbana native Kathe Porter on a blind date on the Fourth of July, 1958, the two were not separated for long, and were married on March 30, 1959. They would raise four children: Kim, Frank III, Tom, and Lucy, surrounded by all four grandparents and a warm extended family in Champaign-Urbana.
He had a love of fun and practical jokes with his buddies. His alter-ego went by the name “George Pittmacher,” and always liked to spice up the conversation or find some joke to share. Along with a lifelong love of golf, he always had a trusted canine companion–from his childhood sidekick, Bud, to his beloved George–who will move to New York City to live with Frank’s granddaughters.
Frank joined Rotary in 1961 and served for decades on local and regional community institutions, including the Downtown Champaign Retailers Association, Champaign County Credit Bureau, and the Vestry of Emmanuel Memorial Church. He served on the Board of Directors for Bank of Illinois, Porter Equipment, Champaign Country Club, and the Salvation Army.
His involvement with Rotary International was particularly important to him and to the family. In 1974, the Keck family began decades of hosting Rotary Exchange students in their home–from one night to a full year–from Brazil, England, Italy, Argentina, France, and Australia among others. Each of the children spent time abroad on this important exchange.
Frank served as Champaign Club President in 1977-78, was named both Champaign and District 6490 Rotarian of the Year in 1988-89 and served as District Governor in 1997-98. During his Rotary tenure, he helped organize several new chapters, and was inducted into the District 6490 Hall of Honor in the year 2000. No one who ever heard it will forget Frank’s booming rendition of the Rotary anthem, “Smile, and the World Smiles with You.” On behalf of each of his children and grandchildren he contributed generously to the Rotary Foundation, making them each Paul Harris Fellows and boosting the organization’s efforts to eradicate polio.
Upon his retirement from the furniture business, Frank co-founded Fit-Rite Golf with long-time friend Wayne Young. Becoming an accomplished craftsman, Frank enjoyed building custom golf clubs for many years.
Frank also enjoyed reaching out to small businesses with his agency for Go Promotions. His gregarious, friendly persona spread the joy of customized hats, pens, and coffee mugs throughout the Midwest. He always shared a smile, a business card, and a personalized pen with anyone he met.
Frank and Kathe traveled extensively with family, furniture industry friends, ski groups, and bicycle tours. In 1999, they led a Group Study Exchange of teachers to Malaysia. Then, also through Frank’s Rotary involvement, Kathe developed a project with a grant from Rotary International to help provide a livelihood for Ugandan women beset with debilitating but treatable fistula. She found a way to introduce, supply, and teach local women in Kabala to use knitting machines to support themselves and infuse the local economy. The Kecks and other volunteers subsequently gathered shipping containers full of donated books and computers to start a library in this developing community. Their passion project brought incredible challenges but also lasting friendships and appreciation for international diplomacy and cooperation.
In 2000, Frank and Kathe found a winter getaway in Florida. Life in Bonita Springs was so appealing that they moved there full time in 2003. They enjoyed most of the next decade with new friends and interests at Copperleaf and visiting a growing family of grandchildren across the country.
When Kathe’s health required moving to the West Coast near their children for her treatment, Frank and Kathe relocated to California. The love of Frank’s life, Kathe Porter Keck, died in 2017. They had been married for 58 years.
After Kathe’s passing, Frank moved to Overland Park, KS to be near son Frank III and his family. Ever eager to have a constructive project, Frank resumed a hobby he had learned in his father’s model airplane business in the 1930s. He subsequently built models from every era–hundreds of aircraft–from the Wright Flyer to the SR-71 and Apollo, with a special love for WWII fighters and the Blue Angels. He also crafted delightful, intricate doll houses for his granddaughters and for charity.
Frank leaves four children Kimberly (Mark) Weinstein of Mercer Island, WA; Frank III of Shawnee, KS; Thomas (Antoinette) of La Jolla, CA; Lucy (Michael) de Anda of San Francisco, CA., eleven grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter. He touched countless lives, including dear friends, family and community members, and Rotary Exchange students around the world.
Those preceding him in death include his parents, his wife Kathe, sisters Margie Wikoff McCabe and Charlotte Johnson, and an infant daughter.
Frank had a very spiritual heart and a firm belief in the Episcopal faith, and donated a new installation of stained glass windows in the Emmanuel Church in Champaign as a memorial to his family. He looked forward to joining the beloved family and friends who preceded him. His motto was ever, “Make it Happen.” When you think of him, he would want you to remember, “Smile and the world smiles with you!”
A memorial for Frank will be held in the New Year.
Donations may be made in lieu of flowers to:
Sage Patient Advocates
12515 Semillon Blvd.
San Diego CA 92131
Rotary Club of Champaign
PO Box 48
Savoy, IL 61874
Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church
208 W University
Champaign, IL 61820
Condolences may be offered at www.renner-wikoffchapel.com