By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Jim Keller had so much going on, he just had to retire.
The former Keizer City Councilor retired last week at the age of 67. Since 2007, he’d worked as senior policy analyst for the state Republicans at the state capitol in Salem. His wife of 45 years, Anna, retired from the Salem-Keizer School District five years ago.
“Anna, bless her heart, makes sure she has a list of things for me to do every morning,” Keller said with a laugh. “But I am doing some golf. We have seven grandchildren, so we’ll be spending time with them. I told my kids I would help them with yard work. I’ve got so many things to do.”
In other words, Keller looks to fulfill the old saying about being busier in retirement than while working.
“You know, what everybody says is true,” the 2001 Keizer First Citizen said.
After serving in the U.S. Navy from 1965 to 1969, the lifelong Keizer citizen worked as a correctional officer for the Oregon State Penitentiary. He was a Marion County deputy sheriff for six years before serving as a power plant regional manager from 1976 to 1988. From 1988 to 2002, he ran Keller One Hour Photo.
Along the way, Keller continued to serve his community. He was on the city council from 1992 to 2000, serving as the president in 1999. He was the liaison to the Community Policing Committee and was also on the River Road Redevelopment Board, the Keizer Tomorrow Committee, the Noise Ordinance Task Force, the Liquor License Task Force and the Marion County Fair Board. He was also president of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce for two terms.
Serving the community in that capacity came as a result of a conversation once with good friend JoAnne Beilke.
“She encouraged me to get involved in my community,” Keller said. “So I did. I started with the chamber, served on numerous committees, then was on the city council. I got the political bug after that. I told my wife after I sold the business, I wanted to spend time in politics.”
After selling his business in 2002, Keller knew he still wanted to be in politics. Mayor Lore Christopher told him about a committee administrator position at the state capitol for the 2003 legislative session.
“I got the job, which was just for the session,” Keller said. “When you work in that building, you have to get to know people fast.”
Keller served in the same capacity for the 2005 and 2007 sessions, after which he was hired by the House Republicans as a senior policy analyst.
“We’re given topic areas we’re responsible for,” Keller said. “Any bills to those committees, you evaluate the bills, let the committee members know your understanding of them, if they’re good or bad, who supports or who’s opposed to them and any background information they might need. Once the bill is on the floor, you brief all caucus members.”
It’s a job Keizer’s 1995 Merchant of the Year took an immediate liking to.
“I felt comfortable with it right away,” he said. “My experience at the city level helped out. When you’re working with legislators, that’s a special breed. They like to talk to other people who have gone through an election. It helped me communicate with them a lot easier.”
Among them was Rep. Mike McLane, the House Republican leader.
“If you were to look up the definition of what a faithful public servant is, you would find Jim Keller’s picture,” McLane said. “His knowledge and expertise undoubtedly improved the lives of countless Oregonians. I congratulate Jim on his retirement and wish him the best of luck out on the golf course.”
Keller has fond memories of his time on the Keizer City Council.
“Council was very exciting, a lot of fun,” he said. “It was challenging at times. When you make a decision, you know it will tick some people off. That was a little challenging, since I was a small business owner at the time. But it was a lot of fun.”
He found it hard to compare that level to the work he did at the state level.
“It was night and day different,” Keller said. “On the city council, you make a decision and it impacted people the next day. On the state level, some concepts take years to develop and pass. You don’t have the immediate impact. It’s still fun, but it’s a different kind of fun.”
Keller points to the First Citizen award as the honor that stands out the most ini his mind, though for a different reason than one might expect.
“I remember thinking at the time you get recognized for doing something everyone else is doing,” he said. “You’re just emulating everyone else around you. There’s so many people that have done such a fantastic job in Keizer.”