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Obituary: The Reverend John C. Keester

Servant of God, gentle spirit, traveler, lover of life

Claremont resident the Reverend John C. Keester died peacefully in the early morning of May 23 at the age of 92. A nearly 28-year resident of Pilgrim Place, he was also the emeritus pastor of St. Ambrose Episcopal Church.

He was born July 15, 1929, in Kane, Pennsylvania. He lived a nomadic life from the start, moving between Pennsylvania; Rochester, New York; Alma, Nebraska; and Phoenix, all before the age of five. His family continued to move throughout his childhood. His younger brother, Riley Keester, was born in 1941. Rev. Keester graduated from El Segundo High School in 1946.

In 1952, Rev. Keester graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. He was initially a pre-med major and was a member of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity. It was there he met his future wife, Lauranne (Laurie) Keester (née Yust), in 1947. They were married June 2, 1950.

While at UCLA, the young couple attended Canterbury Club events and it was through a chance meeting with Fr. Peter Paulson, chaplin to Episcopal students at UCLA, that Rev. Keester began his spiritual journey. It was after a Canterbury Club dinner where the then Bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles, Francis Eric Bloy spoke, that he first felt called by God to attend seminary. His young wife was not so sure she wanted to be the wife of a priest, but she too knew this was his calling. During his second year at seminary, in 1954, the couple welcomed their first son.

Rev. Keester received his M.Div. from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific at Berkeley, and was ordained in 1955. He had a long and distinguished career in the ministry, with his first assignment as vicar of St. Peter’s Church in Arvin, California from 1955 to 1958, followed by a position as curate at St. Jude’s Church in Burbank, California from 1958 to 1961. He also served as chaplain to Episcopal students at the University of California, Santa Barbara and vicar of St. Michael’s Church in Goleta, California from 1961 to 1965; chaplain to Episcopal students at University of California, Los Angeles, as well as executive secretary for ministry to higher education in the Diocese of Los Angeles 1965 to 1966. During this time, he and his wife welcomed three more sons.

In 1966 Rev. Keester moved with his wife and young family to Claremont when he became the rector of St. Ambrose. Claremont was home for the family for the next 14 years. He had a brief stint as exchange vicar at St. Cuthbert’s Church in Doveridge, Derbyshire, England from 1976 to 1977. After leaving St. Ambrose in 1980, he continued his ministry as rector of All Saint’s Church in Bakersfield, California from 1980 to 1985, and rector at St. Timothy’s Church in Catonsville, Maryland from 1985 to 1991. Throughout his career, Rev. Keester served on numerous diocesan, provincial, and national committees, and held positions at the Claremont School of Theology.

Though he took early retirement in 1991, Rev. Keester continued in his priestly vocation, serving as interim rector at St. Paul’s Church in Modesto, and assistant priest at All Saint’s Church in Bakersfield. He moved to Pilgrim Place in 1994, which opened new opportunities and challenges for him within the ministry. He was an active member of the Pilgrim Place community and loved his time as a Pilgrim. He continued to serve as supply priest at St. Ambrose throughout the years.

An enthusiastic traveler, Rev. Keester enjoyed spending time camping with his family and dear friends, Tony, and Ellie Goritz. Together the families embarked on road trips, exploring the western U.S. when their children were young. His nomadic spirit continued into his later life, and his travels took him to Europe, the holy land, New Zealand, Hawaii, Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, Quebec City, and many other stops along the Eastern Seaboard.

Following the death of his wife Laurie in 2011, Rev. Keester, found love again and on August 16, 2014 wed his second wife, Betty Dennison. Together they shared several happy years at Pilgrim Place and took frequent excursions to visit their extended families.

An avid reader, Rev. Keester relished quiet contemplation and reflection. He took considerable care crafting his sermons. He was a gifted orator and touched countless lives spreading the message of God. Although his faith was the primary focus of his life, he enjoyed dancing and music, particularly big band, and the crooners. He was known to frequently and exuberantly burst into song as he went about his day. “Rev. Keester’s family and friends recall his joyous spirit, his warm smile, and his gentle nature,” his family shared. “His presence will be missed by all who knew him.

Rev. Keester was predeceased by his wife of 61 years, Laurie.

He is survived by his wife of eight years, Betty Dennison, of Claremont; younger brother, Riley Keester of Mount Juliet, Tennessee; sons, Philip Keester of Newport, Rhode Island, Devin St. Clair and his wife Amanda Mann of Santa Rosa, Christopher Keester and his wife Susy Keester, of Boca Raton, Florida, and Timothy Keester and his wife Kiersten Keester of Granite Bay; six grandchildren, Katrina, C.J., Daniel, Jennifer, Jake and Sabrina; and six great-grandchildren, Tessa, Tyler, Cora, Coley, Chris and Ellie.

A celebration of life will take place at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, 830 W. Bonita Ave., Claremont, CA 91711, at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 18.

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