Waterdown veteran remembered as part of high school museum

Community Nov 16, 2020 by Julia Lovett-Squires Flamborough Review

Jay Keller once relieved a Nazi soldier of his belt.

Keller was in Belgium and his belt broke. At the time, a unit had captured prisoners of war and the Waterdown veteran had liberated one of the prisoners of his belt and used it as a replacement — a story that shocked his granddaughter Valerie Keller.

“It’s mind blowing,” she said, noting that it was like discovering a whole other side to the man she knew.

That belt, along with Keller’s Second World War uniform and a school attendance record for the week of Nov. 11, 1937, were featured as part of a Remembrance Day exhibit at Waterdown District High School, where the local veteran’s memory lives on.

Keller, 97, died last month. The Waterdown veteran served with the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals in Italy, including Ortona, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

“We remember these veterans,” said WDHS history teacher Rob Flosman, who explained that the Remembrance Day exhibit is designed to help students relate to those who served so valiantly. “That connection is so important.”

Keller and his family made significant contributions to the Waterdown District High School Museum of History, which was established in 2014 by Flosman and features more than 1,200 items donated by the Flamborough community. The exhibits are carefully curated by high school students, providing a unique opportunity for youth to learn about the past.

Keller’s son Pat said it was important to share that history with the community.

“They need to know the story of somebody local and maybe they can relate a bit more to it,” he said. “You know, you just don’t want that history to be lost.”

The artifacts are significant to Valerie, who said her papa never spoke about his wartime experiences with the children, though they did know about the men he served with - many of whom he had forged lifelong friendships with.

“We never saw his uniform,” she said. “It was very separated.”

After the war, Keller went on to raise a family and, according to Valerie, was quite the character.

“He was funny. He had this thing where he would — whenever he visited us — tell us that the squirrels told him something about us and that they sang it to him in a song,” she said. “It was always about squirrels.”

Valerie lived next door to Keller and his wife Ilean, and every time he called the house to talk to her father, he would always pretend he was Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

“This was right up until we were in high school,” she said laughing. “He was he most positive person I had ever met. He was never in a bad mood.”

Looking back on his legacy, Valerie wants her own children to continue in their great-grandfather’s footsteps.

“He was genuine, and I hope that it can continue,” she said.

While Flosman is thankful for the Keller family’s donations and contributions to the museum, it’s Pat and Valerie who wish to thank the history teacher for the work he and his students put into the initiative.

“He’s just gone above and beyond,” said Valerie. “My grandfather would be very, very honoured.”

CORRECTION: This story has been edited from a previous version that misstated where Keller had liberated a prisoner of his belt during the Second World War. Keller was serving in Belgium with the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals at the time. The Review apologizes for any inconvenience caused by the error.

Waterdown veteran remembered as part of high school museum

Community Nov 16, 2020 by Julia Lovett-Squires Flamborough Review

Jay Keller once relieved a Nazi soldier of his belt.

Keller was in Belgium and his belt broke. At the time, a unit had captured prisoners of war and the Waterdown veteran had liberated one of the prisoners of his belt and used it as a replacement — a story that shocked his granddaughter Valerie Keller.

“It’s mind blowing,” she said, noting that it was like discovering a whole other side to the man she knew.

That belt, along with Keller’s Second World War uniform and a school attendance record for the week of Nov. 11, 1937, were featured as part of a Remembrance Day exhibit at Waterdown District High School, where the local veteran’s memory lives on.

Related Content

Keller, 97, died last month. The Waterdown veteran served with the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals in Italy, including Ortona, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

“We remember these veterans,” said WDHS history teacher Rob Flosman, who explained that the Remembrance Day exhibit is designed to help students relate to those who served so valiantly. “That connection is so important.”

Keller and his family made significant contributions to the Waterdown District High School Museum of History, which was established in 2014 by Flosman and features more than 1,200 items donated by the Flamborough community. The exhibits are carefully curated by high school students, providing a unique opportunity for youth to learn about the past.

Keller’s son Pat said it was important to share that history with the community.

“They need to know the story of somebody local and maybe they can relate a bit more to it,” he said. “You know, you just don’t want that history to be lost.”

The artifacts are significant to Valerie, who said her papa never spoke about his wartime experiences with the children, though they did know about the men he served with - many of whom he had forged lifelong friendships with.

“We never saw his uniform,” she said. “It was very separated.”

After the war, Keller went on to raise a family and, according to Valerie, was quite the character.

“He was funny. He had this thing where he would — whenever he visited us — tell us that the squirrels told him something about us and that they sang it to him in a song,” she said. “It was always about squirrels.”

Valerie lived next door to Keller and his wife Ilean, and every time he called the house to talk to her father, he would always pretend he was Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

“This was right up until we were in high school,” she said laughing. “He was he most positive person I had ever met. He was never in a bad mood.”

Looking back on his legacy, Valerie wants her own children to continue in their great-grandfather’s footsteps.

“He was genuine, and I hope that it can continue,” she said.

While Flosman is thankful for the Keller family’s donations and contributions to the museum, it’s Pat and Valerie who wish to thank the history teacher for the work he and his students put into the initiative.

“He’s just gone above and beyond,” said Valerie. “My grandfather would be very, very honoured.”

CORRECTION: This story has been edited from a previous version that misstated where Keller had liberated a prisoner of his belt during the Second World War. Keller was serving in Belgium with the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals at the time. The Review apologizes for any inconvenience caused by the error.

Waterdown veteran remembered as part of high school museum

Community Nov 16, 2020 by Julia Lovett-Squires Flamborough Review

Jay Keller once relieved a Nazi soldier of his belt.

Keller was in Belgium and his belt broke. At the time, a unit had captured prisoners of war and the Waterdown veteran had liberated one of the prisoners of his belt and used it as a replacement — a story that shocked his granddaughter Valerie Keller.

“It’s mind blowing,” she said, noting that it was like discovering a whole other side to the man she knew.

That belt, along with Keller’s Second World War uniform and a school attendance record for the week of Nov. 11, 1937, were featured as part of a Remembrance Day exhibit at Waterdown District High School, where the local veteran’s memory lives on.

Related Content

Keller, 97, died last month. The Waterdown veteran served with the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals in Italy, including Ortona, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

“We remember these veterans,” said WDHS history teacher Rob Flosman, who explained that the Remembrance Day exhibit is designed to help students relate to those who served so valiantly. “That connection is so important.”

Keller and his family made significant contributions to the Waterdown District High School Museum of History, which was established in 2014 by Flosman and features more than 1,200 items donated by the Flamborough community. The exhibits are carefully curated by high school students, providing a unique opportunity for youth to learn about the past.

Keller’s son Pat said it was important to share that history with the community.

“They need to know the story of somebody local and maybe they can relate a bit more to it,” he said. “You know, you just don’t want that history to be lost.”

The artifacts are significant to Valerie, who said her papa never spoke about his wartime experiences with the children, though they did know about the men he served with - many of whom he had forged lifelong friendships with.

“We never saw his uniform,” she said. “It was very separated.”

After the war, Keller went on to raise a family and, according to Valerie, was quite the character.

“He was funny. He had this thing where he would — whenever he visited us — tell us that the squirrels told him something about us and that they sang it to him in a song,” she said. “It was always about squirrels.”

Valerie lived next door to Keller and his wife Ilean, and every time he called the house to talk to her father, he would always pretend he was Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

“This was right up until we were in high school,” she said laughing. “He was he most positive person I had ever met. He was never in a bad mood.”

Looking back on his legacy, Valerie wants her own children to continue in their great-grandfather’s footsteps.

“He was genuine, and I hope that it can continue,” she said.

While Flosman is thankful for the Keller family’s donations and contributions to the museum, it’s Pat and Valerie who wish to thank the history teacher for the work he and his students put into the initiative.

“He’s just gone above and beyond,” said Valerie. “My grandfather would be very, very honoured.”

CORRECTION: This story has been edited from a previous version that misstated where Keller had liberated a prisoner of his belt during the Second World War. Keller was serving in Belgium with the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals at the time. The Review apologizes for any inconvenience caused by the error.