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Once Upon A Time In History

Ken Keim: Adventures in Good Living

Ken Keim and his family were among the early families who moved to Killington and worked to create a better, more vital community for themselves and their children.

"Being in the right place at the right time" applies to many transplants who came to the town in the 1960s and 1970s and successfully put down roots, Ken notes.

Lest you think that was an easy and automatic accomplishment, Ken dispels that myth, noting, "The limiting factor was seasonal work. Unless you had a job at the mountain, the early businesses - lodges, restaurants, shops - had a challenging time of it due to being seasonal businesses."

Ken came to town in a different way from most. "We were living in an apartment in New York City and had two small girls. The choice was to move to Long Island, Westchester, or New Jersey. But we also had the house in North Sherburne so we decided to move to Vermont (1968) to raise our children since I could take my electrician skills anywhere and find work," he said.

In 1966 he had completed that vacation home with a friend- with assistance from their wives who actually carried buckets of water to the site at the ends of shoulder yokes. He still chuckles at the memory, taking obvious delight in the many stories he has of a life filled with experiences where he used his ingenuity and skills to get a job done.

But why Killington? Ken was a skier and his friend had roots in Northfield, which made the town a natural choice for locating land on which to build a vacation home, he remembers.

He delights in telling the story of getting ready to return to the city after working on the house one weekend only to find his car's trouble light on. He stopped into Martin Real Estate and inquired, "There wouldn't by any chance be an MG dealer nearby?"

That, of course, elicited a good laugh.

Since Martin's was located in a lower section of a building, Ken asked if he could use the conference room. He lined it with newspapers and drove his car in to work on it. Finding an electrical problem, he asked, "There wouldn't by any chance be a place with old motors or generators nearby, would there?"

This time they took him to a farmer "who had a barn with shelves of old motors and generators of all kinds." Finding what he needed, he marveled over the "no charge," fixed the car and cleaned up the room. "They were watching me like I was a crazy person," Ken said of his "electrician's tinkerer skills" and a story that became "a legend among locals."

It's also a typical Ken Keim adventure even if not as intriguing as having done the electrical work on John Gotti's house in New York!

Adventures he has had.
Prior to marrying Pat - Killington town treasurer for 38 years now - he was in the Navy as a Second Class Petty Officer and Aviation Electrician Mate. His travels around the world started then and have continued throughout 47 years of married life so he has been to just about every country and most of the U.S.

The move to Killington was made easier because of his electrician skills coupled with experience in industrial and heavy commercial projects. "The only electrician in town, Jim Bigelow, was getting ready to retire so I saw an opportunity and soon was wiring projects all along the Access Road," he said, noting he also worked in the Rutland area.

As for the skiing life, he learned while stationed in Maine in the Navy. He recalls renting an A-frame in Killington with one other guy and 13 women the winter of 1964. Pat and Ken married the following October (1965) so his those "ski club" days were thankfully over, he recalls with an incredulous laugh at being so outnumbered.

With their third daughter born in Vermont, they needed more room and Ken proceeded to build the home they still reside at the top of Currier Road. Vermont helpfulness manifested itself when neighbors showed up and volunteered for a "fireplace raising" (even building a hoist to get the fieldstones up so the chimney project would go faster) and roof shingling.

Those efforts were well reciprocated as Ken became a community booster himself.

The "Little White Church" located along U.S. Route 4 is home to a small congregation affiliated with the United Church of Christ. The Catholics in town lacked a church building so they rented the sanctuary "on Saturday afternoons for $10," Ken recalls. "They were small and struggling, and we would have 200 on a Saturday (15-20 locals plus tourists and skiers), so we offered to raise our rent to $20," he recalled of the getting the Catholic services started in the 1970s. 

Later, Our Lady of the Mountains offered to split building costs and paid for an addition with Ken donating many hours of work to that and other projects.

Ken noted appreciation for the willingness of the host church "allowing the Stations of the Cross and a statue of Our Lady to be placed" in the sanctuary. "Marge Wilson bought the statue in Rome and brought it back on a seat next to her on the plane," he said. "The sharing worked out great."

Another recollection that gets him to chuckling is of services held "in the old town garage after a church fire and Josephine Blanchard sitting on a John Deere tractor."

In an effort to raise money for the damaged organ, Ken told mass attendees that they had "a once in a lifetime chance to become organ donors and live through it," an effort that netted $1500. After a second solicitation, he presented $2,000 to the UCC church, much to their amazement and appreciation.

Another fond memory is of being a founding committee member of the ecumenical Easter Sunrise Service at Killington (1987) with the churches once again working together to benefit the community and visitors.

In addition to serving as Our Lady of the Mountains Church Chairman for many years, Ken was a charter member of the Killington-Pico Rotary Club, where he served as an officer and board member and became the club's first Paul Harris Fellow.
He also served his community by stints as a town auditor, agent, fence viewer and energy coordinator. As a member of the Recreation Committee, he helped develop the Johnson Recreation Center and was a proud member of the fire department. He volunteered for the Killington Ski Club races, too, and helped John Tidd start a cross-country program for local students in the 1970s.

After one of the town's July 4th parades, "Jo Blanchard [Mountain Times readers may remember her "Jo's Jottings" column] said we ought to have fireworks." Ken bought $400 worth of fireworks in New Hampshire and began the annual display, which brought joy to thousands of viewers over 35 years that he orchestrated it before turning over duties to Steve Finer.

Retired now, Ken's current project is to figure out how to raise funds to digitize the old Bob Perry 16 mm films of Killington to better preserve them for the historical society and posterity.

In his leisure time, Ken became an accomplished Telemark skier, but his major hobby has been taking thousands of slides and photographs and filling 30 albums with town and family special moments.

With his penchant for helping to create community events and services, it is not too surprising to learn that among his fondest travel memories are those of the two years the family participated as volunteers in the Macy's Day Parade. "We went to Hartford and were bussed to the city where we were given assignments and Macy's Parade Technicians red jumpsuits to wear. One year they assigned Pat to the Paddington Bear float but took one look at me and sent me to the Looney Tunes float," he recalls with his characteristic and self-deprecating chuckle.

"Crazy" adventures, family fun, community projects, and "fascinating" travels are the "stuff" of Ken Keim stories. If you haven't heard about Henry Steinway (yes, of the Steinway piano family) or how Phil Mahre became an honorary member of the Sherburne Fire Department, Ken can regale you for hours with the fun of life as well as stories that "no one is supposed to know about - like the days when the ski area made money collections in an old beat up Buick!"

Tagged: History of Killington, Ken Kelm