An Extraordinary Life: Philanthropist from Joliet had many sides
BY DENISE M. BARAN-UNLAND Correspondent September 29, 2013 4:02PM
Jack Keck | Supplied photo
Updated: November 1, 2013 10:01AM
When Sean Keck of Wisconsin was a boy, he mistakenly assumed his grandfather Jack Keck, formerly of Joliet and later of Minnesota, cared only about business, money and World War II.
“Spending time with my grandfather didn’t mean playing ball,” Sean said. “It meant reading the Wall Street Journal together and talking about stock prices and how the economy was doing.”
Perhaps that’s because Sean, who went to live with his grandparents when he was 13 after his mother died, saw how focused Jack was on work. Jack owned the former Joliet Beach Club and Joliet Equipment Corp.
As Sean grew older, he realized those three interests of his grandfather’s were the outward expression of the inner man, the one who, upon his death on Aug. 20 at the age of 91, left $1 million to Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox and $1 million to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota through the Evon D. and Jack H. Keck Foundation, Sean said.
“My grandfather was an extremely giving, loving, generous and caring man,” Sean said. “He’d conquered how to make money — business was his hobby — but that came out of growing up on Washington Street during the Depression and then coming home from World War II having nothing.”
Jack’s solid work ethic began when he was 4 by helping his father William Keck fix electric motors in the family’s garage. William eventually opened William Keck and Sons Electric Co.
With two of his brothers, Jack founded the still-thriving Joliet Equipment Co. When Jack heard the former Michigan Beach was to be sold, Jack called the owner’s representative and explained why he must buy it, even though he could not submit the highest bid, Sean said.
“He did promise many children would learn to swim there,” said Sean, who licked plenty of stamps and envelopes in his childhood, his role in mailing out membership applications, “and he’d let the children from United Cerebral Palsy swim for free.”
Jack didn’t own the Joliet Beach Club very long after he bought it, Sean said. Instead, Jack gave half to his brother, the late Norman Keck, a former Joliet mayor, and half to Jack’s wife Evon. Joliet Beach Club lasted more than 30 years, Sean said.
“He wanted to be sure she was cared for,” Sean said, “in case anything happened to him.”
Together, Sean and Jack scrapped copper and visited steel mills. Jack often retold favorite World War II Navy Seabees stories: how Evon sent “real” clothes for the South Pacific native girls and they reciprocated with a double pair of high heel shoes; how Jack repaired things for officers in exchange for meat; how Jack kept goats for pets (until he caved to temptation and ate them) and split the tongue of a crow to teach it to talk.
However, in his last years, Jack talked on just one subject: his three great-grandchildren.
“For him, the culmination of his life wasn’t about business and it wasn’t about money,” Sean said. “It was about family.”
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