Ray Edgar Keller, 69
Fast horses, a lead foot, an open ear and a constant smile about a new deal cooking is what those who loved Ray Keller will remember most of his time on Earth.
Budweiser lost a loyal customer on June 17, 2020. Ray Edgar Keller, 69, of Burwell, NE died suddenly after a tough fight with congestive heart failure. We like to think Ray embraced his diagnosis like a challenge: to not live in the past or present, but to live the reminder of his life to the fullest.
Born March 7, 1951 in Omaha, Ray was adopted at 3-months of age by Neal and Pauline (Catlett) Keller. The pair received little-to-no notice to retrieve Ray from the orphanage, where they shopped for baby supplies on the way home to the Keller Hereford Ranch near Purdum. Ray talked about his best early years living on the Keller homestead, the serene Sandhills river valley, built like a small city filled with workers and buildings, truly in the middle of nowhere.
In December 1968, Ray married Janet (Gass) Keller. The pair had three children - Jay Dee, Kimberly, and Kathryn. Ray lived on the Purdum ranch until his graduation from Valentine High School in 1969.
During the Summer of Love (1969), Ray recalled when he and his new family drove through hoards of hippies living in the Colorado foothills to move to the family’s new ranch in Steamboat Springs. When the seasons changed, Ray and his young family made the trek north to Casper, WY to honor his rodeo scholarship from Casper College. He then transferred to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), continuing his rodeo career as a steer wrestler. It was his greatest honor to represent the UNL Rodeo Team at the 1973 National Rodeo Finals in Bozeman, MT, where he placed Overall Runner-Up Champion. That same year, Ray graduated with an Agricultural Business Management degree.
After college graduation, Ray went to work on the Keller Ranch near Brewster. Focused and innovative, Ray started his journey as one of the Sandhill pioneers to raise crossbred cattle, including Limousine, Chianina and Charolais. In 1988, Ray’s son, Kent, was born. Ray left the ranching business in 1989.
Always evolving his career, Ray worked in California, then Omaha. It was here that he met, and married, his dear wife of nearly 22-years, Donna (Carlson) Keller. The pair lived and worked side-by-side in Omaha, Ashland, Merna and settled in Burwell.
Never one to stay stagnant in a career, Ray evolved with his wide-range of skills while working as a traveling veterinarian pharmaceutical sales representative, as a real estate broker and agent with Insight Realty, and pursuing his passion working with cattle at the Burwell Livestock Market, Inc.
As Ray left us for the ultimate rodeo in the sky, he leaves behind his wife, Donna of Burwell; his adult children, Kimberly (Gregg) Conner of Overland Park, KS, Carie Kobiela (Shane Kaczor) of Bassett, Kathryn (Ryan) Lautzenhiser of Raymore, MO, Trinity (Jenni) Kobiela of Elkhorn, Kent (Ashley) Keller of Eaton, CO and Janet Keller of Raymore, MO; grandchildren, Rachel Conner of Tucson, AZ, Mitchel (Grace) Conner of Fayetteville, NC, Laurel Conner of Overland Park, KS, Skylar and Aurora Lautzenhiser of Raymore, MO, McKenna, Fallon and Merit Wietzki, Chase and Kinley Kaczor of Bassett, Braden and Bryce Kobiela of Elkhorn. Never one to know a stranger, Ray was loved by many in-laws, cousins, and friends scattered from around the globe.
We take comfort in knowing Ray was ushered into his next adventure by his loving parents, Neal and Pauline Keller; his brother, Robert Smith; and his infant son, Jay Dee Keller.
Just because Ray is gone, doesn’t mean the party has ended! A Celebration of Life will be held Saturday, June 27th at 2:00 p.m. at the Burwell Rodeo Grounds, with AB Cox officiating. Through his western lifestyle, Ray made many great friends he cherished his entire life. The family encourages his friends to honor him by riding horseback into the arena. Social gathering hosted by the family will follow at 83 Grand Event Center, 440 Grand Ave.
Ray decided years ago that he would donate his body for medical education and research to the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be directed in Ray’s name to Nebraska’s Big Rodeo, PO Box 711, Burwell, NE 68823; Nebraska High School Rodeo Endowment Fund, 83940 493rd Avenue, Bartlett, NE 68622 or the Sandhills Heritage Museum, 416 Jewett Ave. Dunning, NE 68833.