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Brillion’s newest philanthropist is learning on the job

Bruce and Walter Keller.

Bruce Keller knew his father had put some money into some kind of account for charity, but he wasn’t really sure what it was for or how it worked.

Bruce and his father, Walter, were more likely to talk about how things were going at Keller Inc., the family construction company, or their shared passion – collecting John Deere tractors. Together they built the world’s largest collection of the green farm machines, including some that are one-of-a-kind.

Bruce had to learn quickly what the donor advised fund was all about when his father died a year ago February. He was named as successor advisor of the Walter and Lois Keller Fund within the Brillion Area Family of Funds, an affiliate of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.

“I was aware of it but not active in it,” Bruce says of the fund set up by his father.

To say that Bruce lost his father last February describes just a small part of a tragic series of weeks. Last Feb. 3, his wife, Judy, died from a recurrence of breast cancer. His mother, Lois, who had suffered a stroke years earlier, died 11 days later on Feb. 14. It was 11 days after that, on Feb. 25, that his father died. Bruce said his father seemed to lose all will to live without his wife.

Walter had only one semester of college and Bruce did not attend at all. That didn’t stop them from building a highly successful business. Cleaning out his father’s office, Bruce found a lot of business magazines. Similarly, Bruce may not be schooled in strategies for philanthropy, but he has settled on an approach that fits his down-to-earth style in most things.

He decided he’s less interested in national and international charities than his father was. He wants to support local causes. His system is, if one of his friends or someone he trusts is in favor of a given cause, it’s worth his consideration.

Bruce is an only child but he bounces grant ideas off of his son and two daughters. Still he knows the responsibility for his parents’ charitable legacy is his.

He counts the board members of the Brillion Family of Funds among those friends. The Community Foundation and the Brillion board are there to help him identify causes he wants to support and handles all the paperwork.

Bruce retired in 2015 from Keller Inc. as a material coordinator – the guy who makes sure all the work crews have the construction materials they need for the day. He said he never was one for office work.

“I had a desk there. I used it to eat my lunch on,” he says.

His giving won’t be confused with Brillion’s more well-known philanthropists and outgoing promoters of charitable causes – Bob and Pat Endries. “I’m more laid back,” he said, though he did throw in with the Bob and Pat Endries Charitable Fund, also part of the Brillion Family of Funds, in a recent matching grant offer. He’s also not related to the other Kellers known for their giving spirit – the J J Keller Foundation in Neenah.

Bruce has settled on what his signature project will be.

“One dream, thought, ambition I would like to see is artificial turf on football field at Brillion High School,” Bruce says. It would be a tribute to his father, who was a captain on Brillion’s first football team in 1946. Bruce’s son also is a coach with the junior varsity and varsity football teams at the school.

“I’m giving away dad’s money,” he acknowledges.

What more informed approach could you want from a successor-advisor?

What does a Community Foundation do? Glad you asked! Learn more here.

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