Robert Sebley Keck, 35, during the early morning hours of September 15, 2017, passed peacefully into eternal life at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, after a courageous two-year battle with leukemia. The day was also the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, which gave his fellow Catholics solace, and perhaps it was no coincidence that after a summer of drought the skies over North Dakota wept at his passing. In Robert, the city of Williston lost a remarkable son, brother, friend, patriot, coworker, husband, and father.
Robert was born as an identical twin son to James and Jaquelyn Keck on June 6, 1982, in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. His early childhood was spent enjoying the endless adventures that came with living on a country hilltop, and he often reminisced about exploring the great outdoors with his inseparable twin brother Samuel and older brother Wesley. Two older siblings, his sister Vail and brother Jonathan, further sparked his early interest in engineering and music, and Robert’s playful sense of humor often made his family laugh. He exhibited this sense of joy and wonder wherever he went as a child, including numerous activities in the family’s First United Methodist Church and the town’s annual Midwest Old Threshers festival.
In 1992 the family relocated to Williston, where innumerable friendships took root and matured throughout the remainder of his life. His friends describe him as a man always anticipating the needs of others, a man of sound advice with a calm demeanor and a listening ear. He was also a man of deep humility, infectious humor, and even mischievous wit, occasionally posing as his twin to confuse friends. At the same time no friend questioned Robert’s sense of commitment and drive toward excellence. At Williston High School, from which he graduated in 2001, Robert devoted time to wrestling, cross country, science club, band, and choir. Most notable were his gifts in music, especially in service to the local community and his church.
Robert’s sense of service extended to his country, and in April 2005 he joined the North Dakota Air National Guard, based at the Fargo Air Force Base with the Happy Hooligans 119th Airborne. He diligently labored on the avionics systems of the MQ-1 Predator, the MQ-9 Reaper, the C-21 transport, and the F-16 fighter. Robert loved the challenge of the military and enjoyed the companionship of his fellow guardsmen, who remember him as a colleague of great humor and intelligence. He was particularly known as an extraordinary mentor for younger airmen, who likewise recall how he selflessly shared his knowledge and skills.
Robert’s skills further extended to his career at Ekblad, Inc., where he began work in January 2007 through the reference of his twin brother Samuel. His older brother Wesley later joined him on the job, leading some to call the place “Keckblads”! He quickly advanced from delivery to electronics technician, and he was known to excel in all of the company’s departments – sales, service, and technology. His research and trouble-shooting were unparalleled, yet his employer, Jon Ekblad, treasured most his care of customers, who “always came first.” During treatment customers constantly inquired about his health and contributed to a fund for medical expenses. For Jon, Robert’s irreplaceable personality will “never be forgotten” among coworkers and customers, especially in his love for life.
The love of his life, however, was his wife Priscilla (Monson), his high school sweetheart whom he married on June 2, 2007, seven years to the day they first met. He married a woman with six vigilant brothers, and not one of them could discern a single fault in Robert. Rather, Robert’s in-laws gained a brother and son in him, and all admired the depth of love between him and Priscilla. This love’s first gift to the world came in June 2009 with the birth of their oldest daughter, Grace Marie. A true daddy’s girl, Grace mirrors Robert in her calm spirit, snuggly affection, and limitless questions. She loved having him tell her Bible stories before bed. In March 2012 the family welcomed a son, Adam Robert, who resembles Robert in looks, personality, and energy. Robert saw his younger self in Adam, a son who watched with intrigue whatever his father did, and a son who has always expressed his desire to be one day “like daddy.” March 2014 witnessed the birth of another daughter, Olivia Eileen, a birth only two weeks before her father’s five-week deployment to New Mexico. Like her older sister, Olivia peppered her father with countless questions, and Robert answered each one with loving patience before indulging in tickles before bed. Later she was known to stand on the stepstool next to his hospital bed and talk his ear off, and Robert in turn just smiled and absorbed the sweetness of her voice. Finally, the couple’s youngest child, Scarlett Ann, graced the family in December 2015, only two weeks after Robert’s diagnosis of leukemia. Priscilla’s labor actually began in Robert’s ICU room, and hospital staff later rushed him down to the maternity wing to witness the birth and cut the umbilical cord. For her parents, Scarlett has been an anchor of comfort and healing in the midst of illness, a security blanket often wrapped around her daddy’s arms in his hospital bed. The two enjoyed a special bond that brought tremendous joy in the face of suffering. All four of these children resemble Robert in lush eyelashes and sapphire eyes, reminders of a gentle, selfless love that considered each child his most precious treasure. Each was a source of perseverance through his many trials. They were, and unmistakably remain, Robert’s greatest loves.
In the end, the ultimate source of Robert’s boundless love was his Lord. After joining the Catholic Church on Easter in 2007, Robert became a devout parishioner of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and a member of the Knights of Columbus. His fellow parishioners will miss his musical talent as a cantor for Mass. As with music, Robert’s faith was steeped in love, a rock-like faith that weathered the storms of life. To the bitter end he fought the good fight, he finished the race, he kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).
Robert is survived by his wife, Priscilla; four children: Grace (8), Adam (5), Olivia (3), and Scarlett (1); mother Jaquelyn Keck; siblings Jonathan (Yuepeng) Keck, Vail (Steve) Rowland, Wesley Keck, and Samuel (Karli) Keck; parents-in-law Gregory and Janette Monson; siblings-in-law Paul (Stephanie) Monson, Elliott (Sydney) Monson, Dominic (Heidi) Monson, Jacob (Katie) Monson, Aaron Monson, Jordan Monson, and Emily Monson; and numerous nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his father James Keck; maternal grandparents William and Rachel Dennis; paternal grandparents Charles and Irene Keck; and sibling-in-law Grace Marie Monson.