The Keck Family Papers

Written by Leanna Barcelona

Recently, the Student Life and Culture Archives processed the family papers of Charles E. Keck and his sister, Marjorie Keck Koehler. Growing up, they moved around in Central Illinois along with their father and uncles’ furniture store, Keck Furniture. Each spent time at the University of Illinois and Illinois Wesleyan and were involved extensively in campus life.

Wesleyan Ladies' Quartette, c. 1915. Found in Record Series 40/20/242, Box 1
Wesleyan Ladies’ Quartette, c. 1915. Found in Record Series 40/20/242, Box 1

Marguerite Aileen Keck was born on October 28, 1891 in Decatur, IL, and received her Bachelor’s degree in Music from Illinois Wesleyan in 1915. Marjorie spent a great deal of time performing in musicals and singing at various events. She formed the “Wesleyan Ladies’ Quartette” with friends and they sang at several events, including the Firemen’s Benefit in 1914, as well as church services. She played the role of “Property Woman” in “Contrary Mary” under the direction of Miss Winifred Kates on December 17, 1914. Aside from her musical talents, Marjorie was a straight “A” student and studied French, Italian, and Latin, and petitioned the founding of Pi Delta Phi Sorority, an organization that is now known as a National French Honors Society. In Marjorie’s personal scrapbook pages, a newspaper clipping reads, “Members of the Pi Delta Phi Sorority were pleasantly entertained Thursday night at a slumber part at the home of Miss Margaret Keck.”[1]


Alpha Gamma Delta, Xi Chapter's Annual Initiation Banquet, January 12, 1917. Found in Record Series 41/20/242, Box 1
Alpha Gamma Delta, Xi Chapter’s Annual Initiation Banquet, January 12, 1917. Found in Record Series 41/20/242, Box 1

Marjorie also petitioned the national sorority of Alpha Gamma Delta to install a chapter at Wesleyan and became one of the first members of the Xi Chapter. In her graduate years in the College of Music at the University of Illinois, she made the same appeal for the sorority to join the campus in 1917. During her years at the University of Illinois, she joined the Women’s Glee Club and sang first soprano. After her years as a student, she married Jesse Newton Koehler and had two daughters, one of whom helped her brother Charles write his autobiography several years later, which is housed  at the Illinois Archives.


Charles E. Keck, c. 1917. Found in Record Series 41/20/242.
Charles E. Keck, c. 1917

Charles Everette Keck was born five years after Marjorie on January 12, 1896, also in Decatur, IL. He attended Illinois Wesleyan for four semesters, from 1912-15, although he wanted to transfer to a larger school after his first year at Wesleyan to study engineering. However, his father would not allow it. His father proposed that he could study engineering if he received a law degree first. So Charles went back for a second year at Wesleyan and studied law, but his unhappiness at the school continued. After one more year at Wesleyan, he transferred to the University of Illinois along with his father’s furniture store, which opened a Keck Furniture location in Champaign. He entered the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to study law in the fall of 1915 as a sophomore, although he technically was of junior standing. Once a student of the University of Illinois, he became involved in various aspects of student life. Charles had a talent for art and drawing and was on the editorial staff for the student newspaper, The Siren, and art staff of the Illio. He also joined the Mask and Bauble Dramatic Club and performed in several of their shows. Charles also wanted to join a fraternity and looked to his sister for advice. In his autobiography, he writes:

She told me to get Ben’s [Banta’s] Greek Exchange from the library and read up on them, which I did. I found out that Chi Phi, the fraternity I was interested in, was the oldest in the States, founded at Princeton in 1824. That impressed me. I thought any fraternity that had lasted all through the Mexican and Civil War and was still around must have some pretty solid people in it.[2]

In 1917, Charles signed up for the war and joined the Army. First he spent time at Camp Crane in Pennsylvania, even performing in a musical comedy as “Miss America” in the show “Good-Bye Bill.” Soon after, Charles was stationed in Europe, spending time in Italy and France and formed a jazz band among his fellow soldiers. He came home in 1919 and writes about his war experiences in his autobiography. He returned to the University of Illinois in the fall of 1919 and graduated in 1921.

If you are interested in learning more about the Keck Family, please visit us at the Archives Research Center!

[1] Keck Family Papers, 1913-53, Record Series 41/20/242, Box 1, University of Illinois Archives.
[2] Charles E. Keck Papers, 1992, Record Series 41/20/87, Box 1, University of Illinois Archives.

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