CGCC remembers Dr. Ernie Keller

July 21, 2020

Columbia Gorge Community College is saddened by the death last week of Ernest “Ernie” Keller, Ph. D. Dr. Keller worked closely with the college beginning in the late 1970s as an ESD administrator. He first joined the CGCC Board of Education in the 1990s, and then served continuously from 2001 until 2017. 

Dr. Keller is remembered by CGCC employees as a staunch advocate for education whose passion for helping others was boundless. So great was his dedication to CGCC’s student causes that he donated to almost every student fundraiser, and attended every student-directed event that he could. He was even given an honorary membership in Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society of two-year colleges, because he supported CGCC’s Alpha Sigma Xi chapter so ardently that he never missed an induction ceremony.  

He was particularly active in the area of Career and Technical Education (CTE), which he taught early in his career as an educator. He was well-known for going out of his way to make sure CTE instructors had relevant professional development, and for helping them work together to make sure they had support and resources--a difficult process in a region where vocational educators are sparse and isolated from one another. 

A former Eagle scout, he practiced the values he learned through Scouting in his dealings with people--especially trustworthiness, loyalty, helpfulness, friendliness, courteousness, and kindness. He joined Boy Scouts Troop 128 at age eleven. His lifelong friend Dr. Jim Joki said "As leader of the Silver Fox Patrol, he camped nearly every weekend, attended summer camp at Camp Parsons, and in the summer hiked in the Olympics, Cascades, and Mt. Rainier." He also worked on staff at Camp Parsons, and when his sons were scouts in The Dalles, served as District Chairman.

He attended numerous workshops and trainings for Board development and was actively engaged at the local, statewide, and national levels on behalf of CGCC. Dr. Keller was also a member of CGCC’s Community Outreach Team, which lobbied for funding to build the Health Sciences Building and the Hood River campus in 2008.  In the same year, in the midst of one of the worst recessions in history, he was president of the Oregon Community College Association, facilitating the collaboration of all seventeen Oregon community colleges to discuss important issues facing all institutions of higher education. As an Associate Committee Member for the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), he served on the Public Policy Committee and/or Governance and Bylaws Committee several times. He also served as a senate volunteer during the 2010 ACCT Annual Congress in Toronto, Canada.

Dr. William Bell, CGCC’s first president, said “Ernie always had an opinion. He was always writing material and was prepared at the Board meeting. He always went the extra mile whether that was through the OCCA or the college. He worked with others to build consensus and come to a mutually beneficial decision. And, he was generous in his support of the college Foundation.” 

Dr. Frank K. Toda, CGCC’s second president, praised Dr. Keller’s engagement as a member of the Board, saying “CGCC wouldn’t be CGCC without Ernie. He knew how to talk to people, and how to work with them on important issues. He was on a first-name basis with three of our last Governors, and while he was president of OCCA, he helped set the pace for all Oregon Community Colleges.”

Sara Viemeister, CGCC’s Financial Aid Coordinator, says “Dr. Keller was a force for good. He showed up to many student events, and lobbied for funding for CGCC for countless years.” 

Former Executive Assistant to the President and Board of Education Tria Bullard remembered Dr. Keller as “a fierce advocate for CGCC and our community. He always had a story to tell and words of wisdom to share,” she said. She also remembered him as someone who “was not shy and could strike up a conversation with anyone he met. Dr. Keller had a great sense of humor, could sell raffle tickets like no one else, and was an avid tennis player."

Former CGCC Board member Carolyn Wood called him “a strong advocate for the school district,” and she notes that he was a long-serving member of the Kiwanis.

Dr. Keller retired from public educational administration in 2000, after 34 years of teaching in elementary, middle school, high school, and university positions, but didn’t stop serving educational causes. In addition to the college Board, he was a board member for the Mid-Columbia Child and Family Center, an agency providing service for children with emotional disabilities.

Dr. Keller is survived by his wife, Gloria, two sons, Winter and West, and their families. Our hearts go out to them in this difficult time.