Mary Ann Keeler

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Keywords: 
West Michigan
Women
Mary Ann Keeler was active in downtown Grand Rapids revitalization and was a leader in bringing the Ford Museum and Grand Center downtown. She invested heavily in the performing arts, museums, and libraries. She has been especially committed to bringing sculptures to public places in Grand Rapids so citizens can learn about the art of today while they go about their lives.

Biographical Highlights

A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Mary Ann Keeler graduated from Ottawa Hills High School. She studied journalism and worked at the Grand Rapids Press. Upon marrying her husband, Miner Keeler, she became active with him in downtown revitalization and philanthropy. Mary Ann became a leader in downtown revitalization and promotion of public art.

Historic Roots

Mary Ann Lynch was born and raised in Grand Rapids and graduated from Ottawa Hills High School. She earned a degree in English literature and journalism from St. Mary’s College in South Bend. She went to work for the Grand Rapids Press in 1947. In 1948, she married Miner Keeler of the Keeler Brass Company family. Keeler Brass Co. was founded in 1893 by Miner’s grandfather. The company manufactured decorative and functional hardware. Mary Ann and Miner eventually had three children.

Importance

It was Mary Ann who was behind much of the early revitalization of downtown Grand Rapids. She played a leadership role in the development of the original convention center and performance hall, called the Grand Center, and in the decision to locate the Gerald Ford Museum downtown. Mary Ann has invested heavily in the performing arts, museums, and libraries. She has been especially committed to bringing sculptures to public places in Grand Rapids. She wants all our citizens to learn about the art of today while they go about their lives.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Mary Ann was a leader on the committee that ultimately built the Grand Center. She wanted an auditorium suitable for symphony performances, and she and her husband gave the first significant gift towards making that a reality. In 1969, she and Miner were the largest donors to the Alexander Calder stabile (a sculpture in downtown Grand Rapids), and she obtained the federal grant for the project. The Keelers also funded a miniature version of the Calder sculpture for the blind. She went on to support many other sculptures in public places in Grand Rapids.

Mary Ann helped persuade the planners to build the Ford Museum downtown. She was on the board of directors of the Grand Rapids Symphony from 1952 to 1970, and organized the Grand Rapids Symphony Adult Choir in 1962. Keeler and her husband funded the Keeler Lobby in DeVos Hall and commissioned California artist Alexis Smith's "The Grand" for the lobby.

The couple made a 1.2 million dollar gift toward the Grand Rapids Public Library renovation, which resulted in the naming of the Keeler Wing in 1999. They funded the Home Health Laboratory in the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences. They gave one-million-dollar gifts to the DeVos Place convention center in 2001 and Grand Valley State University’s library in 2003. A lifelong Catholic, Mary Ann gave the Diocese of Grand Rapids a one-million-dollar gift toward its Cathedral Square project in 2007.

Key Related Ideas

After a career in journalism, Mary Ann married into the Keeler Brass Company family. She and her husband were critical in early downtown revitalization efforts. They were especially dedicated to bringing the visual and performing arts to the city center for the public to enjoy. They also donated to many other causes through their philanthropy.

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Miner S. Keeler I: The grandfather of Mary Ann’s husband was one of the founders of the Keeler Brass Company and lived from 1862 to 1938. He was also known for his service and philanthropy in Grand Rapids.
  • Miner S. Keeler II: Mary Ann’s husband was the third generation of his family to own the Keeler Brass Company. Like her, he was interested in art and downtown revitalization. He co-chaired the fund drive to open Grand Valley State University in 1960 and served on the board of the Kendall College of Art & Design for 25 years. He died in 2003.
  • Richard DeVos: Richard DeVos is the cofounder of Amway with Jay Van Andel. Also born and raised in Grand Rapids, Rich DeVos was an important leader in the early downtown revitalization efforts.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • The Diocese of Grand Rapids is a division of the Roman Catholic Church covering eleven counties and serving over a million people. It is the sponsor of the Cathedral Square project. https://www.dioceseofgrandrapids.org/gallery/gallery.htm
  • The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum opened in 1981 and offers an analytic approach to our past and our government. The museum provokes emotions that stimulate learning, reflection, and a sense of democratic citizenship. https://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/default.asp
  • GRAM Foundation at https://www.artmuseumgr.org/ provides details about the museum’s current programs and exhibits and has a description of the organization’s history.
  • Grand Rapids Public Library: The library was founded in 1871 and moved to the Ryerson location in 1904. In 1997, plans were approved to start improving the Ryerson branch, and in 2003, the construction was completed. https://www.grpl.org/about/history.php
  • The Grand Rapids Symphony was officially organized in 1930 and is recognized as one of America’s leading regional orchestras. Eight concert series and extensive education and community service programs provide the community with performances designed for young children through adults, featuring a diverse repertoire. The Symphony sponsors the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, Grand Rapids Youth Symphony, and the Classical Orchestra. It also provides the orchestra for Opera Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Ballet Company. (https://www.grsymphony.org/)
  • Grand Valley State University: Grand Valley offers a strong liberal education, fostering critical thinking, creative problem solving, and cultural understanding. The mission is to educate students to shape their lives, their professions, and their societies. The university website is at http://www.gvsu.edu/

Related Web Sites

Bibliography and Internet Sources

Clipping file and oral history in the SOUL of Philanthropy collection in the Grand Rapids History and Special Collections of the Grand Rapids Public Library