WINCHESTER — Tom Keel just couldn’t stay away from Umpqua Community College.
“Sometimes he would say, ‘I’m not running again, I’ve had enough,’” wife Donnie Keel said.
“The next thing I know, he’s out campaigning,” she said with a laugh.
At a ceremony Monday, the college named its gym and weight room the Tom Keel Center for Physical Fitness, saluting his service as a trustee and continuing dedication to athletics and the school.
Keel served nine terms on the UCC Board of Directors and retired in 2010 after 36 years.
In front of about 40 people, the board’s chairwoman, Elin Miller, thanked Keel for his commitment to the college.
Keel is fondly known as “Mr. UCC,” she said.
“You continue to serve UCC every day in your advocacy and showing up every day,” she said.
Keel said he still uses the gym several times a week and has fun chatting with students during workouts.
He tried to keep up with the students for a few years, the 78-year-old joked, but he always felt it the next day.
He called it “a real honor” to have the building named for him.
“I really appreciate this, and I hope I’m able to enjoy the center for a number of more years,” he said.
Donnie Keel said her husband was excited about the honor.
“It’s indescribable,” she said. “He’s thrilled beyond words that this is coming about. He’s just enjoyed the college so much. I’m glad he’s still able to come out here and enjoy it.
“This just keeps him energized to come out here and be with the students,” she said.
Keel graduated from the University of Oregon in 1958 and served as Roseburg’s first parks director from 1960 to 1965. He then directed the Douglas County Parks and Recreation Department for 25 years before retiring in 1990.
Keel’s UCC career began when he taught adult education classes and tennis beginning in 1964.
He served as one of two people representing UCC for the Oregon Community College Association.
He received the Howard Cherry Award from the OCCA in 2004 for being an outstanding board member, and was recently inducted into the UCC Hall of Fame.
Science Department chairman Ken Carloni said Keel was a recognizable face on campus.
“He’s the board member who spent the most time out here than probably all the rest combined,” Carloni said.
Carloni said he often catches up with Keel at the cafeteria, both about college business and just chatting.
UCC President Joe Olson said Keel is always available to offer an honest answer about the school.
“I know how he feels about this campus and this fitness center, and it’s a delight for us to name it after you,” Olson said.
College athletics have always been especially important to Keel.
He said he is still trying to raise attendance for UCC basketball games.
“I get a big enjoyment out of watching the games,” he said.
Olson commended Keel for his continuing dedication to the school even after his retirement from the board.
A sign for the building was not finished in time for the ceremony, but will be installed later this week.
Keel was the second of three men to have a building named in his honor by the college this spring.
The college renamed the student center in honor of college co-founder LaVerne Murphy Wednesday afternoon.
The final dedication will take place at 4 p.m. today. The Administration Building will be renamed in honor of longtime board member Del Blanchard, 86, of Myrtle Creek.
• You can reach reporter Betsy Swanback at 541-957-4208 or firstname.lastname@example.org.