up in N.D. Inspires Writings
"Growing up in N.D. Inspires Writings." Forum, 13 September 2004.
Dr. Edward Keller likes to point out that there's a story within
The first one unfolds in the pages of the seven books he's written
primarily dealing with growing up in Strasburg, N.D., where he was
born in 1927.
The second story is how he came to write those books in the first
place. By doing so, he is something of a beacon of light for those
who fear that after years of holding a job, retirement is the end
of the line.
For Ed Keller, retirement was just the beginning.
Work is honorable
Ed was a dentist in Dickinson, N.D., for 42 years.
He and his wife, Shirley, had seven children, several grandchildren
and a potentially laid-back life awaiting them by the time he retired
But then what? Sit around and stare at the tube? Oh, please ...
"I couldn't just sit and do nothing," Ed says. "My
mother had taught me that work was honorable."
So he went back to work, if you can call what he loves to do "work."
He began writing about his life. "I just had to tell my story,"
His first book was "My First Grade, 1932," telling of
the one-room school he attended at Strasburg.
That was followed by "My Mother's Apron," centered on
his mother who wore an apron all day every day except when she went
His books, written not on a computer but on a trusty old Smith
Corona typewriter, have sold well. He's also popular as a reader
to children which, as a bonus, led him to his books' illustrator.
Finding a painter
Ed has read in 77 schools, mostly in North Dakota, but also in
Minnesota, South Dakota and Oregon.
One time he was reading in Centennial Elementary School in Fargo,
where Jan Christy teaches fourth grade.
Jan's husband, David Christy, Ed learned, was an art instructor
at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
They got together and David signed on to illustrate Ed's books.
"But David is not an illustrator," Ed insists. "He
is a painter. Look at what he did for my books; he made paintings
"David got my writing career going 90 miles an hour. He brings
the stories to life."
Those stories now are encompassed in five more books: "My
First World," "Memory Stories," "Memory Stories
II," "Amateur Writer," in which he gives tips to
writers, and his latest, "Trixie, My Shetland Pony," which
will be out in about five months.
Ed has sold about 20,000 books, of which about 2,500 are in public
"The books are all over," he says. "Some people
from here (Dickinson, where he and Shirley still live) moved out
to Washington. Now I have about 100 books in the Yakima Valley alone."
Kids and polkas
Ed often is guest speaker at readers' conferences, dealing with
illiteracy, and at teachers' conferences.
Above all, he loves to read to children in schools. "It's
really something to have 30 kids in the room with 60 eyes on you,
taking in every word," he says.
He always brings along a tape of waltz and polka music to the schools
- the music of Strasburg's own Lawrence Welk. "This is the
music Lawrence's father brought over from Russia," Ed says.
"The kids love it."
Ed, like Lawrence, is of Germans-from-Russia heritage.
How else does Ed spend his retirement years?
Well, he writes a weekly column for the Emmons County Record of
Linton, N.D., and he does book-signings.
He recently was signing his books in Medora, N.D. "I get people
from all over the world," he says ecstatically. "One gentleman
from Australia bought a copy of every book I had."
Do you think about leaving North Dakota, Ed?
"No. I love it here. I tell people about it," he says.
A man from Pennsylvania was visiting Ed when he was in Medora.
"You're a long way from home," Ed commented.
"Yes," the Pennsylvanian said, "but I'm a lot closer
"He saw the Badlands, nature - and not so many cars and street
lights," Ed said. This, he said, is the place to be.
You might find Ed's books in local stores.
Or you might find him on the stump, telling people the glories
of his native state, or of how you needn't throw in the towel on
life just because you happen to be old enough to retire.
Reprinted with permission of the Forum.