Al Keim: A Man On A Mission

Loved Ones Honor Keim’s ‘Journey Of Discovery’

By Kate Prahlad, Daily News-Record

Albert N. Keim was remembered Tuesday by his family and friends as a fierce intellectual, an unassuming man and a doting grandfather.

At a memorial service at Park View Mennonite Church, a packed house listened to tributes that celebrated his academic work and his love of his family.

Al Keim's funeral
Melody Keim, daughter of Albert N. Keim, remembers her father: ‘Most of all, my father was a storyteller. And it never surprised us that he loved history. After all, what is history but storytelling on a grand scale?’ (Photo courtesy of Daily News-Record)

Keim, 72, died Friday at the University of Virginia Medical Center of complications following a liver transplant. He retired from Eastern Mennonite University in 2000 after 35 years of teaching. He also served as academic dean of the school from 1977 to 1984.

The former history professor is survived by his wife, Kathy Fisher, his daughter, Melody Keim, two grandsons and seven siblings.

Family and friends said he filled many roles with enthusiasm and a wise outlook on life.

"Al Keim was loved by all of us as a husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, teacher, mentor, colleague and friend," said Barbara Moyer Lehman, a pastor at the church.

A Love of History

Keim earned his bachelor’s in history from EMU in 1963. He continued his education at the University of Virginia with a master’s, and then earned his Ph.D. in history from Ohio State University.

He wrote a biography of Harold S. Bender, a professor of theology and author of "The Anabaptist Vision," a short essay aimed at Anabaptists and Mennonites. Keim also wrote "The CPS Story," and was one of only two authors to have two books listed in "The Essential Anabaptist-Mennonite History Reading List."

"Most of all, my father was a storyteller," said Melody Keim. "And it never surprised us that he loved history. After all, what is history but storytelling on a grand scale?"

John Lapp, Keim’s history teacher at EMU in the 1960s, said he grieves for Keim and for his unfinished work.

"His singular concern was to help us remember," Lapp said. "He had a wonderful gift of being neither simple, superficial or idealistic."

A Love Of Family

A doting grandfather, Keim enjoyed time with his two grandsons, Jeremy and Jonathan – and enjoyed talking about them, too.

"I think anyone that took classes with him after [his grandsons’ births] knew all about them," said Melody Keim.

He liked to talk tractors and farming with his grandsons, she said.

The oldest of nine children, Keim grew up in an Amish household in Hartville, Ohio. As a young man, he left the Amish community to pursue "intellectual development," Melody Keim said.

He began attending EMU, where he met his first wife, Leanna, while they were both students. Leanna Keim died in 1998.

In 2000, Keim married Fisher, and during their first year of marriage, they lived in Saudi Arabia, where Fisher had taught English.

A Love Of Service

Keim also served in Europe as a Mennonite Central Committee Pax volunteer in post-war relief efforts from 1956 to 1958. There, he built villages for Mennonite refugees from the Soviet Union and Poland, his daughter said.

He was instrumental in the creation of the Valley Brethren Mennonite Heritage Center, where he served as the first director in 2001-02 and was a board member from 2000 until his death.

He will be remembered by the community for his "quiet demeanor," "remarkable intellect" and his sense of humor, said James Bomberger, who gave a tribute at the memorial service Tuesday.

"Al spent his life on a journey of discovery, and not just self-discovery," said Phil Kniss, Park View Mennonite’s pastor. "He was on a larger mission for all of humanity."