Photo courtesy of the Keeler Family Collection
Ina (Keeler) Jones and her husband, Cecil “Spek” Jones, pose in the front yard of their home far out East End Road, near Homer.

Photo courtesy of the Keeler Family Collection Ina (Keeler) Jones and her husband, Cecil “Spek” Jones, pose in the front yard of their home far out East End Road, near Homer.

Keeler Clan of the Kenai — Part 8

Three siblings from the Keeler family of Oregon came to the Kenai Peninsula to live between 1947 and 1951

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Three siblings (Floyd, Lawrence and Verona) from the Keeler family of Oregon came to the Kenai Peninsula to live between 1947 and 1951. By the end of 1980, only members of the Lawrence Keeler clan remained in Alaska. Today, the extended family of Lawrence and his wife Lorna, excluding spouses, numbers about 25 Alaska residents, including many still living on the southern Kenai.

The Wall

Marion Keeler’s job at the quarry near Girdwood in 1970 included some potentially dangerous maneuvering atop a rock wall. Before explosives experts swooped in to plant charges to bring down fresh slabs of armor rock for the Seward Highway’s post-1964-earthquake rehabilitation project, Keeler, at the controls of a D-8 Caterpillar, had some careful adjustments to make.

According to protocol, the top of the quarry wall was to be regularly inspected for cracks or faults that might indicate weaknesses and the possibility of an unplanned slide. Once the wall was deemed safe, it was Keeler’s job to scrape or “rip” the topside and push any loose rock, perhaps dislodged from a previous blast, out to the edge so it would fall with the rest of the slab when the wall was dynamited.

Once enough rock had been shoved out to the edge, a Cat operator such as Keeler would back his equipment far away from the wall and the blast zone.

When Keeler began working atop the wall on May 30, he was pushing new rock to the rim perhaps 200 feet above the quarry floor when the whole edge on which he was perched gave way. Keeler, still on the seat of his D-8, dropped with the rock face and was crushed. He was only 29 years old.

“The whole mountainside collapsed underneath him,” said brother-in-law Cecil “Spek” Jones.

“It was awful,” said Marion’s sister, Ina (Keeler) Jones, who had been only 14 at the time.

A memorial service was held in July. In addition to his parents, Lawrence and Lorna Keeler, his brother Larry and his sisters Ina and April, Marion Leroy Keeler was survived by his wife Judith and their four children—Jackie, Brett, Brad and Valerie—all of Ninilchik.

In the mid-1950s, Marion and Larry had been privates in the Homer platoon of the Alaska National Guard. They had both worked for years on their father’s sawmill. Marion had also been a commercial fisherman in addition to a heavy-equipment operator.

Lawrence and Lorna’s Legacy

Of the three Keeler siblings who moved to the Kenai Peninsula between 1947 and 1951, only Lawrence Keeler has progeny still living in Alaska. Lawrence and his wife Lorna had four children, who all produced children of their own, and many of those children have also produced offspring.

Marion’s daughter Jackie lives in Arizona but has two daughters who are residents of Anchorage. The older of those daughters has two children, while her sister has one child and another on the way. Marion’s son Brett also lives in Anchorage and has three teen-age children. Marion’s two youngest children, Brad and Valerie, are unmarried and have no kids of their own; Brad lives in Anchorage, while Valerie lives in Palmer.

Marion’s widow, Judy, has remarried and lives in Eagle River.

Larry Darrell Keeler, eldest of Lawrence and Lorna’s children, was born in June 1934. While Marion was fishing commercially, Larry began working as an assistant to a local hunting guide. Although in the early 1960s, he did live in Kenai and work on an oil platform for the Northern Oil Company, guiding hunters became his primary occupation. He continued to guide every fall and spring, eventually earning a lifetime license.

Larry died Feb. 11, 2024, at the age of 89. In the last years before his death, he split his time between Anchorage and Naknek, where he had a girlfriend. Larry was married twice and had three children, including Rebecca Anne, who died as an infant.

Larry’s son Darren lives in Homer, and his daughter Ramona lives in Texas. While Darren has no children, Ramona has four daughters, the youngest of whom lives in Hatcher Pass. Another of Ramona’s daughters lived in Alaska for a while, but her two daughters still do. One of them manages a restaurant in Homer.

Lawrence and Lorna’s third child, April, was born in Oregon in 1943 and married David Williams in Alaska in August 1961, when she was 18. They are longtime residents of West Mackey Lake in Soldotna and have been married for 62 years.

David Williams grew up in Idaho and moved in 1957 to Ninilchik where he lived with his aunt and uncle, June and Wayne Bishop, the brother of Waldo Bishop, who had given April’s family a place to stay in the village and later sold them land out on Oil Well Road. For a time while they were living in the village, April’s mother also worked in “Uncle” Waldo’s electrical business.

David and April became acquainted through the friendship between the families, and David began participating in the Keelers’ many social gatherings.

The daughters of David and April are named May and June, both of whom live out of state.

Then there is youngest of Lawrence and Lorna’s brood, Ina Lea Keeler, born in 1955. She married Spek Jones in August 1972, a few weeks before her 17th birthday, and they soon moved onto Jones family property on East End Road out of Homer. They’ve been there ever since and have been married for 51 years.

Spek and Ina have two children—one son and one daughter. The daughter, Vikki, lives near her parents and has one son and one daughter of her own. The son, who lives near his grandparents, has a two-year-old son of his own.

Spek and Ina’s son Bill shares a house with his parents. He is married, and he and his wife have five children. Four of the five kids also live in the same house, while the fifth child, a daughter, got married in 2022; she and her husband recently purchased four acres of Jones property to build a home of their own.

For a time after Lawrence’s death in 1974, Lorna Keeler worked to support herself financially. She babysat in the Kenai area for two years and was a companion to an elderly woman in Homer for another two years. In 1979, she moved out to the Jones property on East End Road, and in 1983, after she remarried to Steve Zawistowski of Seldovia, he joined her in Jones territory.

Before her move east of Homer, Lorna had lived in a house trailer. A fire in the trailer destroyed all of the photographs, mementoes and papers she had saved over the years, leaving precious few images and keepsakes to mark her family’s earliest days on the Kenai.

Today, most of the memories that remain are encapsulated in a shared history and a constantly expanding family. Seventy-five years after the first Keelers headed north, the Keeler family’s presence in Alaska remains strong.

Photo courtesy of the Keeler Family Collection
In the early 2020s, the extended Keeler clan continues on the southern Kenai Peninsula, with (far right) Vikki, the daughter of Ina (Keeler) and Spek Jones, her son Brad and his infant son Hugh. At left is Spek Jones and his mother Nelda Jones.

Photo courtesy of the Keeler Family Collection In the early 2020s, the extended Keeler clan continues on the southern Kenai Peninsula, with (far right) Vikki, the daughter of Ina (Keeler) and Spek Jones, her son Brad and his infant son Hugh. At left is Spek Jones and his mother Nelda Jones.

Photo from the Steve Zawistowski story in “In Those Days.”
In 1983, nine years after Lawrence Keeler died, his wife Lorna remarried to longtime area resident Steve Zawistowski.

Photo from the Steve Zawistowski story in “In Those Days.” In 1983, nine years after Lawrence Keeler died, his wife Lorna remarried to longtime area resident Steve Zawistowski.

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