Keen remembered for role in Habitat, community
By Kathy Chaffin
H.B. Keen, a devoted supporter of Habitat for Humanity of Rowan County and other community causes, died early Sunday morning at the age of 74.
The Rev. Jerry Allen of Milford Hills Baptist Church, where Keen was a longtime member and had served as a deacon, announced his death to the congregation Sunday.
“The members who knew H.B. were moved by the news,” he said, “but I think they also rejoiced and some of them even said something to that nature, that ‘H.B. is with Frances. He’s home now …’ ”
Keen suffered a stroke in April of 2001 while in St. Louis attending a training session at Optimist International’s headquarters. He had been active in the Salisbury Optimist Club for years, even helping to start other clubs, and was scheduled to become a national vice president of the organization.
The stroke left him unable to serve.
“H.B. could read the newspaper,” Allen said. “He could watch television, but the part of the brain that was affected by the stroke was the speaking part. He could say just a few things.”
Even though the stroke “turned his life upside down,” he said, Keen never seemed depressed. “That was amazing to me.”
Keen’s wife, Frances, who died on Oct. 24, 2007, took wonderful care of him, Allen said. When H.B. was admitted to Genesis HealthCare Center, he said, Frances was there every day.
“She made sure he was cared for and that he had good food,” the pastor said. “It was a wonderful witness to me of what love is all about. Frances really expressed her love. She lived out her life for H.B.”
When Frances got sick, Jim DeHart, their longtime friend and fellow member of Milford Hills Baptist, said she was also admitted to Genesis, a few rooms down from H.B. The Keens had three sons, Henry of Weddington, Jimmy of was planned before he had the stroke.
Daisy Nichols, another longtime volunteer and then vice president of Habitat’s general store operation, talked about Keen’s passion for Habitat at the dedication, according to a Post story on the event. He never let any obstacles get in his way, she said.
Once, when Habitat needed $100,000 in equipment and supplies to build one of its first properties and everyone complained that they couldn’t raise that much, she said Keen disagreed.
“I remember H.B. getting up and saying, ‘I can raise that money. What’s wrong with you people? … Stop thinking negatively and have some faith!”
When Allen first became the minister at Milford Hills Baptist, Keen drove him around and pointed out the houses Habitat had built. “He was real proud of the work volunteers had done around Rowan County building homes for needy families,” Allen said.
“From what people have shared about that, he really put a lot of time and energy into Habitat. That says a lot about his heart.”
Gordon Hurley, a longtime friend of Keen, said he probably did more for Salisbury than anybody else.
“I’m talking about actual physical work and planning,” Hurley said. “He was the most active man you’ve ever seen until he had his stroke.”
Among his accomplishments was helping to start and serving as chairman of the Rowan County WalkAmerica project, which grew under 10 years of his leadership to include 1,200 participants and raised more than $50,000 for the March of Dimes.
Keen served on the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation’s board of directors for nine years and was vice chairman of the seven-county district.
He was also a member of the Salisbury Kiwanis Club and was the recipient of its annual major emphasis award in 1987.
Hurley said he got to know Keen through Rowan Little League. Keen’s three sons had all played, and he was instrumental in getting the Little League field off of Harrison Road started.
DeHart, who was also involved with Rowan Little League, said Keen put in long hours for the organization. The league meetings were held in Southern Bell’s home offices, he said, where Keen was employed as an engineer.
It was Keen’s love for baseball and his desire to find a place for the kids to play, DeHart said, that motivated his work with Rowan Little League.
“H.B. was all for other people, not himself,” he said. “It just didn’t seem like he could do enough. This is one big loss for all of his friends and the county.”
Keen died at Genesis HealthCare. Funeral arrangements are pending at Summersett Funeral Home.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249. and Matt of Raleigh.
H.B. Keen Jr. was instrumental in starting Habitat for Humanity of Rowan County and helping it to grow, according to Executive Director Coleman Emerson. “He was a board of directors member and was in charge of many aspects of the ministry with a special emphasis on construction,” Emerson said.
“He had an extraordinarily big heart,” he said of Keen. “He genuinely wanted to help people. I really don’t know how to adequately give him all the praise that he deserves. Words fail me.”
Habitat for Humanity dedicated its 38th home to Keen in November of 2001, seven months after his stroke. H.B., the volunteer director of construction, and Frances were there for the dedication, which