Dale Keeler, left, and his brother, Bill, are shown at a family reunion. Dale Keeler died last November and the family will host a memorial on Memorial Day at the Oxford Izaak Walton League. CONTRIBUTED

This 75-year Butler County family reunion tradition has a new meaning. Here’s why.

The family will gather again this week for a memorial of his life on the afternoon of Memorial Day.

The memorial at the Oxford Izaak Walton League on Brown Road on the afternoon of Memorial Day will begin with a social time at 1 p.m. with snacks followed by a prayer and memory sharing time at 4 p.m. A carry-in dinner will begin at 5 p.m. followed by more socializing.

His daughter, Jody Lydick, sent email invitations, emphasizing the idea is to remember her father, but also to have a good time.

“In honor of his memory and to celebrate the life and adventures of my beloved dad, we would like to invite you to attend his Celebration of Life. This won’t be a normal shindig, just so y’all know. My dad would hate everyone moping around with too many tears in their eyes, so on that note … we’re having a party,” she wrote.

Bill Keeler recently recalled the life of his brother, Dale, and many stops he made along the way, beginning with a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, which he joined “to see the world.”

Dale’s military service only let him see the part of the world around Fort Knox, Kentucky, but what he learned set him up for the life he lived afterward.

“He got to see the world in Fort Knox,” Bill Keeler joked. “They made a cook out of him. That helped later in life when he cooked for lodges.”

In what might be called a nomadic life, Dale Keeler found a life he enjoyed, rarely staying in one place for more than five or six years and trying new challenges, mostly centered on the outdoors. That started with a nearly month-long canoe trip to the Hudson Bay on a river on the edge of Canada. On that trip, he met a trapper from Finland and spent a year with him trapping on the Hudson Bay.

That was followed by a few years fishing in Florida, then working at a hunting and dude ranch in Wyoming, where he learned to shoe horses, and met his first wife, a woman from Shaker Heights, Ohio.

After that, Bill Keeler said, his brother moved back to this area for a few years and worked shoeing horses but then he and a friend went west, moving to Oregon.

“Dale never could stay in one place more than four, five years. He said if he goes out and has to look both ways before crossing the road, there’s too many people and time to move on,” Bill Keeler said, explaining his brother moved to Montana after Oregon working on a farm which used horses for all the farming. Later, he moved to Lloyd, Montana, near the Canadian border. “Winters were so severe, he said they tied a rope between the house and the barn so they would not get lost in a snowstorm.”

Then, he moved back to Oregon working on logging by helicopter with a Vietnam veteran flying the copter, hauling logs out that way. Then, he moved to the coast to work in a fish processing plant.

It was after that he found his way to Alaska where he first worked in a lodge cooking for people who went there to fish and hunt, as many as 30 people, two or three meals a day.

Dale and his second wife then moved to Admiralty Island where he worked as a commercial fisherman. The island is known as the Fortress of the Bear and known for a population of brown bears nearly three times that of humans.

Next, they went to Prince of Wales Island where he fished and helped visitors there for the hunting and fishing. His wife died while there.

Bill Keeler said his brother was not always able to make it back for the family reunions but had done so the last four or five years and when he was back in September, he knew he did not have a lot longer to live.

“His kidneys were failing and he knew it. Craig, Alaska, is on the northwest corner of Prince of Wales Island. There is no place for dialysis,” he said. “He would not have it, anyway. He got worse and worse and on Nov. 10, he just went to sleep.”

Cheryl Shafer, the brothers’ cousin, lives in Eaton and served as secretary for the family reunions for many years. She said the first reunion was held in 1936 but they were not held for several years during World War II, while many of the men were away but it was calculated the 2018 reunion was the 75th.

The first was held for the family of William and Elizabeth Keeler with a pitch-in dinner of favorite foods.

Minutes of the meetings and attendance, including guests, are always recorded and those minutes are still being kept. In fact, Shafer said they have a tradition of reading the minutes from a previous reunion at every one with those of the first time chosen to be read this past September.

That first reunion recorded 35 people in attendance and she said that is still fairly common with 35 to 55 people each year.

She said some years there has been entertainment, particularly by children in the family, and games, with pony rides some years.

“It’s always been good for us,” Shafer said. “We try to keep ’em interested. Every generation has one or two who step up and say they want to keep it going. It’s a wonderful family thing, lots of food, lots of laughs. Seeing people you do not see all year, mostly.”

Lydick invites all her father’s friends to take part in the memorial on Monday and asks people to e-mail her if they are coming. It is to be a potluck dinner and she wants to know what people are bringing “so we don’t have 35 chocolate mayonnaise cakes on one table,” she wrote. The family will provide drinks, snacks and “a big pile of chicken or something similar.”

RSVP to her email jodytoons@gmail.com.

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