This week, I learned that my Uncle Ron (Carl Ronald Keck) died over the weekend. He was 85 years old.
I always liked my Uncle Ron. I thought he was funny even when he was using humor to hide some uncharitable thoughts. I thought he was fond of us (my brother and I) because he was so laid back when we were around. We spent a lot of time in his restaurant when I was a kid.
But I didn’t really know him. He was the conversationalist who always redirected the topic to something that wasn’t about his personal or interior life. So I know him through his stories – how he took his driving test in the family’s milk truck (they owned a dairy) which didn’t even have seats, his ferocius love of flea markets and bootleg VHS copies of movies, and that he liked to drink. I knew he was an only child and he bragged about making the rounds of all the ‘senior citizen discount’ offers after he retired.
He was nice to my mother, I always felt he had a fondness or perhaps sympathy for her. With her, his kindness was a bit more straightforward and less hidden behind humor. Not knowing how much faith I can put in his stories, I can choose to appreciate his storytelling and dig up what truths I can find.
Carl Ronald Keck was born on 15 August 1932 in New Eagle, Washington County, Pennsylvania. He was the only child of Carl William Keck (1901-1979) and Edith Catherine Ackman Keck (1899-1985.) He was born in New Eagle in Westmoreland County, but grew up in Clairton where his parents ran a dairy farm and eventually opened Keck’s Famous Restaurant. He was named Carl after his father, but most people knew him as Ronnie or Ron.
The Kecks immigrated from the Baden region of Germany when Johann George Keck (1828-1911) left his parents and traveled to America, ending up in the coal mines of the Monongahela Valley around 1855. In 1866, he was joined by his new bride Wilhelmina Wille Keck (1844-1925) and they had ten children, eight of whom lived to adulthood. According to a clipping I found in the Connelsville Paper, Johann Georg had gone west during the gold rush of 1849.
Johann George’s son, John George, started out in the coal mines, but eventually purchased farm land in Jefferson Township near what we know to be Route 885 between Clairton and West Mifflin. In 1896, he married Olga Maide Weise (1873-1966) whose family immigrated from German in 1881. Her family was from Saxony. Together, they had three children – Clara Keck Stabler (1897-1988), Carl William Keck (1901-1979) and Lillian Keck Parsons (1904-1993.)
The family of Ronnie’s mother immigrated to Ohio in 1855. That was Frederick Ackman (1844- 1916) who ended up as a glassblower then found his way to Pittsburgh where he married Barbara Anne Snyder in 1866. Her family arrived one generation earlier; Barbara was born in Pittsburgh, but I have not yet found a lot of information on her. Frederick and Barbara had 13 children, 9 of whom lived to adulthood.
Their son, Frederick Charles Ackman (1867-1918) was a glassblower. He grew up in Pittsburgh’s South Side, but moved to Washington County with his young family. His wife was Catherina (Kate) Nusser (1870-1938) who was born in Pittsburgh. Her grandfather landed in Pittsburgh from Germany and opened a butcher shop in the Birmingham neighborhood. They had eight children, seven of whom lived to adulthood. There are many, many fascinating tales from that family.
And their daughter, Edith Anne Ackman married Carl William Keck in 1927. Ronnie was born in 1932.
Ronnie himself graduated from Clairton High School around 1949. He married my aunt Nancy and they had three children: Gregg, Chris, and Bart. They lived in West Mifflin where their son Chris still lives. This is the part the living children still live.
I don’t have much in the way of comforting words to offer my cousins, my aunt or anyone. What I can do is preserve this history for my Uncle Ronnie’s grandchildren (Travis, Sean, and Bailey) and their future children. Some day, they may find this interesting.
Rest in power, Uncle Ron. I’ll leave you with a few clippings to show that your legacy in this world continues, that your people endure.