R.I.P. Mr. Keech
Local Legend leaves a legacy
“STARS AND STRIPES” … mural painted by Jim Keech that he is standing in front of at the Watervliet VFW Post #1137.
By Angela Widdis
James Heaton Keech, a life-long resident of the area, died on August 4, 2020. He was 87 years old. His obituary is on Page 5 of this week’s Tri-City Record.
Mr. Keech was a true polymath by definition, a person with a wide range of knowledge. He was a well-read, well-traveled, well-rounded, and well-connected individual who always was giving of himself in one way or another through his time, talents, or treasure.
Service to students
Beginning his teaching career at Hartford he then took a position in 1960 at the old Watervliet High School that once stood on the corner of Red Arrow Highway and M-140. Keech taught classes that ranged from English to Speech, Drama to Wood Shop, Civics to U.S Government, History to Mathematics, Journalism and yes, even a year of Art during his 36-year tenure.
Jim Keech was a teacher that has been fondly remembered over the years. Since the news of his passing, many former students have been sharing the impact that he has made on them that has lasted for many years.
Elaine Shane Flore, WHS Class of 1965, stated, “Mr. Keech was my teacher for six straight years beginning in seventh grade. I also was in the first musicals he directed: Mr. Crane of Sleepy Hollow, Shillaleagh-O, and Brigadoon. Mr. Keech made an impression on our class the first year he came to Watervliet. We were in fear and awe of him at first. Then we were in love with his teaching style, his stories, the cartoons on the blackboard, his mentoring, and his larger than life presence. In fact, a number of us, including me, followed in his footsteps and became teachers. I believe we tried to emulate his way of making learning lively and engaging.”
Barbara (Flaherty) Schofield, WHS Class of 1965, wrote… “The most memorable thing to me was an assignment for Speech class. We had to write a short speech and mine was on the topic of love. I got an A- (only because I switched from 1st to 2nd person in the body of it) but in the margin, he had written: ‘I hope you save this and read it again in 10 years’. I still have that paper and I have read it numerous times because he knew what I had written was something I needed to remember always, and I have.”
Civic-minded, Keech would have juniors and seniors in his U.S. Government classes register to vote. In 1988 alone, 36 of his former students registered that year. One of his students, Tricia (Krogel) Cole, WHS Class of 1995, recalled that in her senior year of high school she decided to slack off after having made decent grades in the past. Mr. Keech came to her and told her that she was not going to pass his U.S. Government class. However, he quickly offered her a solution. He explained to Tricia that if she did some extra credit, he would in turn give her a barely passing grade. She was eager to learn of the assessment and even more surprised when the requirement was to become a registered voter.
During the 1987-88 school year Keech took a sabbatical in order to take his teaching career overseas. This first trip with the Michigan/Shiga Exchange Teacher program would be the first of many that he would make over the years. In the most journalistic fashion, Keech would send articles back to the Tri-City Record telling the readers of his adventures, reporting on his daily living in a foreign country, and of his mission to teach English to Japanese students. Those articles would later be turned into a book titled, “Gaijin Journal.”
Teaching is an ethical act. The term ethics is derived from the Greek word ethos, which can mean custom, habit, character, or disposition. Mr. Keech enlightened those who cared to learn across the globe, about the human condition through his very own understanding and ethics. He imparted wisdom that went well beyond any textbook and he shared, through example, how to give empathy, how to use your voice, how to work under pressure, build something out of nothing, how to handle rejection, to work as a team, gain interpersonal skills, and no matter what happens; “the show must go on!”
Service to our country