Denny Keller, the Legend Denny Keller a/k/a Papa, Dad, the Original “Gangsta”, and The Music Man said, “To hell with this cancer crap, I’m not gonna let my foot get caught in the door. I’m late for a cocktail party with the Lord.” He arrived for it during Happy Hour, February 6, 2021.
Two monumental events marked 1937, a minuscule little flood of the century along the Ohio River, and the true high watermark -the birth of R. Dennison Keller.
The 83 years that followed proved to be a grand, loud, flamboyant production of dichotomy, leaving all lucky enough to view it slightly confused, but always enriched for the better. He grew up in the small town of Ripley, Ohio, but bolted after college for the big lights of Los Angeles. Though surrounded by glitz and movie starlets, he returned to marry his hometown sweetheart Carolanne Germann Keller. He promised to whisk her back off to Hollywood, but they settled happily together on Main Street in Ripley. He ran his own insurance agency by day, but by night produced pageants including Miss Ohio and Miss Texas. He coached and groomed Miss Ohio in preparation for the Miss America competition, helping two winners from the state bring home the ultimate crown. He later judged the Miss America Pageant himself and served on the pageant’s board of directors
Despite a lifetime of receiving smothering affection from pageant queens, no one could replace the love of his life Carolanne, and the couple remained happily married for 58 years. On Saturday nights, the two would serve cocktails and sing by the piano with artists, gay couples, and dancers in drag. And then on Sunday mornings, Denny would faithfully show up for his volunteer slot playing the organ at St. Michael’s Catholic Church.
He always thirsted for travel and sought perspective from regions beyond the Ohio Valley. Yet, he harbored fierce pride for his home state and communities, and was passionate about improving them, serving on the Ripley School Board, Hayswood Hospital Board, Ohio Tobacco Festival Board, Hospice of Hope Board, and Ripley Sesquicentennial Committee. He acted as President of the OK Warehouse Board, Ripley Kiwanis Club, Ripley High School Alumni Association, and St. Michael’s Parish Refurbishing Committee. He served as a founding member of the Maysville Players producing, directing, and starring in numerous musical productions and comedies.
Though dissuading his own children from pursuing a career in the arts due to all the struggles that were sure to follow, Denny served as primary cheerleader and encourager for countless others who yearned to see their name in lights.
Though conservative in his politics and his religion, Denny acted as a counselor and personal safe haven for numerous young people struggling with their identity, careers, sexuality, or position in life.
In addition to his wife, he leaves behind two children, Maria Caroline Keller Reece and Robert Dennison Keller, Jr. whom he set out on a life of inconvenient torture by calling them by their middle names. Their bipolar experience of living with their father left them whipsawed, and not quite well. But they adore him, relishing every second of their front row seats for the best show in town. And they continue to compete for his attention, even in death. In fact, right now they are still bickering (in various accents) over what to include and leave out of this obituary.
But they did manage to give him two fabulous in laws, (Shaun Reece and Theresa Kalkhoff Keller), and five grandchildren (Nicholas and Sophie Reece and Jonas, Luke and Dominic Keller). Fortunately for them, none of them got tattooed while he was alive, and therefore he kept them in his will. He instilled in them a love of travel and show tunes, and they were with him as the curtain fell to help him exit stage right.
If there was one constant with the legend that is Denny Keller, it is the love he showered on everyone around him, like a standing ovation that never ends. Huge, wonderful, smothering, and unwavering love, with big shoulders and jazz hands. If you were blessed to be in his cast of characters, and feel compelled to offer your own applause in the form of a donation, whatever you do, don’t send flowers. He considered them a damn waste of money, and wouldn’t even buy them for his own wife. Instead, travel with him on his parallel journey into the next world by giving to the theatre (Maysville Players) or the church (St. Michael’s in Ripley or St. Patrick’s in Maysville).
And if you really want to honor his legacy, always embrace the chance to offer someone a sincere compliment to their face. It’ll brighten your day and theirs. Do that and Denny will raise his glass and have a cocktail waiting for you when you join him at the party.
Due to Covid restrictions, Denny will be laid to rest during a private Mass of Christian Burial at St. Patrick’s Church in Maysville, Kentucky on Friday, February 12, 2021, followed by a private graveside service at the Maplewood Cemetery in Ripley, Ohio. When this damn pandemic ends, we will produce a proper send-off and celebration of a very big life, hopefully, this summer. The Cahall Funeral Home in Ripley, Ohio is serving the family.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of R. Dennison "Denny" Keller, Sr., please visit our floral store.
St. Michael Church
16 N. 4th Street, Ripley OH 45167
St. Patrick Catholic Church
310 E. Third Street, Maysville KS 41056
P.O. Box 537, Maysville KY 45106