"Growing up in N.D. Inspires Writings." Forum, 13 September 2004.
Dr. Edward Keller likes to point out that there's a story within this story.
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 in 1996.
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," he says.
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 to church.
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 for them,
"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 libraries.
"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 to God."
"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.