Nov 09, 2020

College of the Ozarks mourns the passing of Dr. Howell W. Keeter, remembers his 50 years of service

Dr. Howell W. Keeter and his wife in front of a rusty tractor.
Dr. Howell W. Keeter inside the well worn cab of a truck.
Headshot of Dr. Howell W. Keeter.
Dr. Howell W. Keeter sitting with his wife in the stands of the Keeter Gymnasium.

College of the Ozarks mourns the passing of Dr. Howell W. Keeter, remembers his 50 years of service

POINT LOOKOUT, MO. — The College of the Ozarks is mourning the loss of Dr. Howell W. Keeter, whose service to the College spanned five decades. A visitation will be held from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., Nov. 11 and 12, at Holt Chapel in Harrison, Arkansas, and a graveside service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14, at the Blue Eye Cemetery.

Keeter passed away on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, after a brief illness.

He is survived by his wife, Brenda, four stepsons, and nine grandchildren.

Keeter was known for his hard work, dedication, and love of students during his five decades at the College. He was beginning year 51 of service to the College. On June 1, 1970, Keeter accepted the position as work coordinator at the institution, which was at that time known as The School of the Ozarks. Keeter carried many heavy responsibilities beginning with his first day on the job and proved himself immediately. He was made associate dean of administration in 1971.

In 1975, Keeter was selected for the newly created position of chancellor and became a member of the board of trustees in 1979.  Through 50 years of various roles — including work coordinator, chancellor, trustee, acting president, and vice president — Keeter became an honored member of the College of the Ozarks community and one of the longest-serving College of the Ozarks employees. Keeter helped guide the school through times of need and times of plenty. 

“Dr. Keeter’s career touched three long presidencies at this institution, and his leadership and insights provided continuity. He will be missed,” said College President Jerry C. Davis. “I most valued his dependability and his always looking out for the best interests of the College. His judgement was invaluable. He was especially concerned for the welfare of the students from the towns and villages of the Ozarks.”

In a 2016 article for the institutional magazine, Keeter talked about his love for the College and the main thing he wanted to pass on to the next generation of students: “I never stop working, and I will do it until the day I die. I try to set an example for the younger generations. This school has been my life since 1970, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Keeter saw first-hand the progress of the College, from the days of financial struggle to the well-established institution it is today. In the article, he expressed his desire for the future of the College: “I can see the College doing incredible things for another 110 years. In order for us to keep our consistency, we must stay true to our mission statement, our five-fold mission, and our strong work ethic. These are the keys to keeping our College vital and maintaining a firm foundation for the future.”

His concern for the students and employees was paramount. He loved the College deeply, taking a personal interest in those around him.

“Dr. Keeter was a key factor in maintaining stability and the solid foundation of the College,” said the Honorable Doyle Childers, graduate and member of the C of O Board of Trustees and former Missouri senator. “I was a student when he came to the College and will never forget what he meant to all of us who had the opportunity to know and benefit from his 50 years of service.”

Dr. Marci Linson, vice president for patriotic activities and dean of admissions, graduated in 1989 and has served at the College for 31 years. She has fond memories of Keeter, who was an inspiration to her and others.

“To say Dr. Keeter bled maroon and white is an understatement. This is an overused cliché, but I can think of no better way to describe his legacy and commitment to the College,” Linson said. “Doc was a gentle giant who spoke volumes by choosing his words wisely. He took a personal interest in both students’ and employees' lives. I will miss his storytelling, his kind heart, and the way his eyes twinkled when he smiled. There is a huge hole in our hearts, but what precious memories of a great man we have to cherish.”

The path of a leader

Because he grew up in the area, Keeter remembered hearing about The School of the Ozarks in high school. He and his friends enjoyed visiting The School of the Ozarks to play basketball on campus. Later on, as a high school principal, he brought prospective students to the junior college.

In the late 1960s through the beginning of the 1970s, the institution struggled through difficult financial times. Praying for a “saving grace,” then President M. Graham Clark sought to find a hard-working person to help manage a multifaceted, growing enterprise. He desired an associate who would have the gift of tenacity, accomplishing any task set before him.

Clark found that person in Dr. Howell W. Keeter.

Keeter graduated in 1954 with a class of five in Pyatt, Arkansas. He went on to receive his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Education from the Arkansas State Teachers College in Conway, Arkansas. He would later receive his Doctoral Degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, also in Education. On June 1, 1970, Keeter became work coordinator at The School of the Ozarks, and after proving his managerial and financial planning skills, he was made associate dean of administration in 1971.

In 1975, Keeter became chancellor of the College for six years and acting president for a year and a half. Thereafter, he took on the role of vice president. Keeter had also served as corporate secretary of the board of trustees for 35 years.