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Former NFL umpire John Keck dies at 83

John Keck, a 25-year NFL officiating veteran passed away on May 6 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 83. Keck wore number 67 and was an umpire in the NFL from 1972 to 1996.



 John Keck, 1931-2015

John Keck, a 25-year NFL officiating veteran passed away on May 5 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 83. Keck wore number 67 and was an umpire in the NFL from 1972 to 1996.

Keck got started in officiating at the encouragement of his father-in-law. He called youth and high school basketball and football games, eventually working his way up to the college level. Keck worked several high-profile games in the old Big 8 Conference (now the Big XII). In the 1971 season, Keck worked a high profile non-conference game at Ohio State, and was noticed by NFL Supervisor of Officials, Art McNally. McNally encouraged Keck to apply for the NFL, Keck did, and was hired into the NFL in 1972. Keck’s last collegiate football game he officiated was the 1972 Orange Bowl — number one Nebraska vs. number two Alabama (video).

keck obit_photoWhen he joined the NFL, Keck served his entire tenure as an umpire and served several years on Bob Frederic’s crew. He also served on crews with referees Fred Wyant, Jerry Seeman, Gerald Austin, Dale Hamer and for the final two years of his career, he helped break in new referee Bernie Kukar.

Keck had several playoff games in his career including being the alternate umpire for two Super Bowls, but the big on field prize eluded him, until his next-to-last season. In the 1995 season, Keck was assigned Super Bowl XXX, and he retired after the 1996 NFL season.

In retirement, Keck enjoyed his family and was very pleased when his grandson, Jody Pugh, decided to follow his grandfather’s footsteps and take up football officiating. This season, Pugh will start officiating NCAA Division III college football.

Off the field, Keck was a successful businessman and civic leader in his childhood hometown of Des Moines, Iowa. He served his country in the U.S. Navy. Keck is survived by his wife of 61-years, Mary, four children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Our condolences to all who knew Mr. Keck and loved him.

Photo: John Keck calls an Emmit Smith touchdown in Super Bowl XXX.


John Keck, 83 of Des Moines, Iowa passed away on May 5, 2015, from pneumonia, a complication of his ongoing battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Family and friends were surrounding him with abundant love.Life for John began in the small Iowa town of Montgomery on October 1, 1931, born to L. Roger Keck and Frances Williams Keck. His family moved to Des Moines 6 years later setting the stage for the rest of his life. His childhood was full of exploring, roughhousing with brothers Bob and Bill, teasing with adoration his little sister Judy, athletics of any kind as well as honing his skills of leadership through scouting and church youth groups. He even attempted to give Benny Goodman a run for his money by learning to play the clarinet until the football bug hit him in High School. When given the chance to play quarterback for Des Moines’ Roosevelt High School he never looked back. He read everything he could about football and applied teamwork, rules and strategic plays to most aspects of his life. He graduated from Roosevelt in 1949.In his formative childhood years his family instilled the strong values of his life. He learned ethical hardworking business from parents and grandparents alike who were business men and women, farmers, carpenters and stone masons but his grandfather Lemual Williams who owned a masonry and Ice house left a legacy that the family has ever since adopted. While studying what he called the “great isms” he became enticed by ALTRUISM and replaced the word ICE on his truck with this one word. John lived his life with this one word as his compass.In 1947 life changed for John when a YMCA/YWCA camp life guard found his ID bracelet at the bottom of the pool. When she found the owner to return it Mary Rump met the love of her life and John Keck didn’t know what hit him. A magical courtship continued from High School through college. The Y-Camp became “the closest place to heaven on earth” for them. As Y-camp leaders they learned together the skills and lessons that are uniquely engrained by the camp experience. Both the Keck and Rump family attended family camp which solidified a family bond that lasted for over 60 years. John and Mary married at camp in Boone, Iowa, on chapel point on June 13, 1953.Prior to their marriage John and Mary enjoyed their undergraduate years together at Cornell College, Mt. Vernon, Iowa. John began acting on entrepreneur flutters by setting up coin operated washers and dryers on campus as well as candy machines. Leading his AXE social group and the college friends he made was a most treasured memory of his. John along with Mary graduated in 1952.

Enlisting in the Navy, John began his basic training continuing with Naval duties in Japan while playing for the Navy Phib Pac football team. He attended officer training moving from Ensign to Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Mary lived in Coronado, CA starting their family with first daughter Susie. In 1955 John and Mary moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan where John completed his MBA from the University of Michigan in 1957. A difficult decision had to be made when he was offered a job from Ford Motor Co. after interning with Henry Ford. Coming home to Des Moines and looking at helping with the family business was far too strong a draw. They moved back to Des Moines adding to the family Kathy, quickly followed by Laurie and Jody. The family was now complete leaving only the navigation through the rest of John’s life in front of him.

Buying a little Cape Cod home in the Beaverdale neighborhood of Des Moines, John, Mary and the girls began their long relationship with Westminster Presbyterian Church. A faithful man, John proceeded to serve in various capacities particularly enjoying chairing the long range planning committee and serving on many pastoral nominating committee searches. He and Mary began many deep friendships at Westminster.

One of his first independent business ideas at Keck Inc., the company started by his Dad, was to bring a full service carwash to Des Moines. Ingersoll carwash was born with 2 more Washpointe Carwashes to follow. Business rolled along as usual with climbing to his rank of President of Keck Inc. In addition to the carwashes the company included a Petroleum distributorship, gas/convenience stores, trucking including commodity transportation and auto parts stores. In the ’70s John learned how to fly and became a partner/President of the Cessna Dealership at the Des Moines airport.

While working hard in business his passions were percolating in another direction. His father in law, long time Des Moines High School Football coach, Gus Rump, mentored him in the world of youth sports officiating. John officiated both basketball and football. He started primarily with local school games working his way into Big 8 football officiating. He was having the time of his life. He never imagined this avocation could be realized to that level. In 1971 “the big call” came. He had been scouted for the NFL and great news ensued. You’re HIRED! #67 NFL Umpire was ready to go to work. John spent 42 years as an official with 25 years in the NFL. Mary, the girls, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends alike had opportunities to go to games and see the NFL from the inside out. The highlights of his NFL career were assignments as the umpire for Super Bowl XXX and an alternate for Super Bowls XV and XXVII.

In addition to his leadership in the business community he was becoming increasingly visible as a regular figure in community service work. He was continually present at committee meetings and fundraisers for organizations throughout Iowa. His Chairmanships include: Iowa Methodist Hospital, Iowa Health System, Iowa Methodist West Capital Campaign, United Way of Central Iowa, Greater Des Moines YMCA, Westminster Church Foundation, and Petroleum Marketers of Iowa, A Director of Cemen Tech. Inc., Iowa Health Physicians, Iowa Health Foundation, Greater Des Moines Chamber of Commerce, Y-Camp board of Directors plus many more affiliations. He was honored to have been inducted into the Roosevelt H.S. and Cornell College Hall of Fame. With his deep love for the state of Iowa he was humbled to be given a presence in the Iowa Hall of Pride.

John’s memberships with the Des Moines Reciprocity Breakfast Club and Des Moines Downtown Kiwanis Club have offered wonderful opportunities to nurture great friendships and important civic initiatives. He especially was thrilled in the last few years to have been a part of bringing the Kiwanis Miracle league to our community.

Now at the end of his life John Keck had mastered a beautiful balance. Given a gentle soul, generous spirit wrapped up with intense loyalty he trusted his instincts which led him to the important lessons he taught his children and grandchildren. “Don’t take more than your share, tell the truth and be present.”

John is preceded in death by his Father, L. Roger Keck, his Mother, Frances Williams Keck, His Brother, L. Robert Keck, Sister, Clara Jo Keck and Brother, David Roger Keck.

He is survived by his Wife, Mary Keck, Daughter, Susie Keck (Gene Lynch) Grandchildren, Lizzie, Dan and Allie Meyer, Ry Lynch, Ann Lynch and Great Grandson, George Lynch. Daughter, Kathy (Kurt) Brewer, Grandson, Ted Brewer and Granddaughter Laura Brewer. Daughter, Laurie (Ward) Phillips, Grandson, Ward (Alyssa) Phillips, Great Granddaughter, Nora Phillips. Grandson, Charlie (Whitney) Phillips, Grandson, Hudson Phillips. Daughter, Jody (Wyatt) Pugh, Granddaughter, Katherine (Mike) Southmayd, Great Grandsons, Ben and Caleb Southmayd. Grandson, John (Justine) Pugh. Grandson, David Pugh. Brother, Bill (Barb) Keck and Sister, Judy (Jeff) Keck Lang.

The family is hosting a celebration of life visitation/reception on Sunday May 17th from 3-7:00 p.m. at the Education and Research Center at the Iowa Methodist Medical Center, 1415 Woodland, Des Moines. (parking is available on the ground floor of the SW parking ramp). The funeral service will be held on Monday May 18th open for viewing at 10 AM followed by the service at 11 AM at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 4114 Allison Ave, Des Moines IA 50310
Memorial Contributions may be directed to the Des Moines YMCA Camp, 1192 166th Drive, Boone, IA 50036 or Kiwanis Miracle League, 505 5th Ave. Suite 202, Des Moines, IA 50309.

The family would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff at Senior Helpers who did a wonderful job putting at ease John’s concern for Mary as his Alzheimer’s progressed. Thank you as well Walnut Ridge Senior Living Community for the amazing loving care you gave John. We would also like to express our heartfelt gratitude to the gifted ICU nurses and doctors at Unity Point Downtown. They truly amazed us. We are forever grateful.

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"