Dave Keeling’s phone was unusually quiet on April 1.
After nearly 50 years in the heating and air conditioning business – during which the phone could ring at all hours of the day and night, as well as on weekends and holidays – it’s going to take some getting used to. sound of silence.
But Keeling, who retired on March 31 when he sold the heating and air conditioning part of his Meeker Mechanical business, said he would adjust to the less frequent ringing of the phone. After all, it will mean more time to do other things he enjoys, especially spending more time with his family.
“It has been a privilege to serve my clients in Litchfield and surrounding areas,” said Keeling. “I really appreciate the patronage, trust and support (they) have given me.”
He is comfortable with his decision to retire and said his body would appreciate the break. But leaving the business that allowed him and his family to live well also comes with a bit of melancholy.
“I’m a bit sad,” Keeling said last week as he looked back on his career, the last 40 years of which have been spent owning and operating his own business in Litchfield. “Some of these clients are like family. I mean, some of them, I did their first house that they built, I did their second house that they built, and now you’re doing their son’s house…. You know the children; you know the grandchildren. Over 40… some of them are like family.
Hailing from Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, Keeling got his start in the HVAC business while still in high school. A friend’s dad had a heating business and Keeling started helping out there when he was a junior.
He found he liked working with his hands and decided it might be a good career to pursue. He attended trade school, the North Dakota State School of Science in Wahpeton, and graduated in 1976, after an 18-month program in sheet metal working and heating and air conditioning equipment service.
After graduating, he took a job with Chappel Central Inc. in Willmar. He traveled around the five state area doing sheet metal and duct work for a few years. Among the work he did was duct work on new homes in the south east section of Litchfield. This job led Keeling, who said he was tired of constant traveling with Chappel, to join B&G Plumbing and Heating in 1979. Four years later Keeling started his own business.
“April Fool’s 1983,” he laughs. “If it didn’t work out, it was an April Fool’s joke. April 1, 1983 is when I started Dave’s Heating and Air Conditioning. And then, of course, I sell it on March 31 (this year). »
It wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. The business has flourished, thanks in large part to a few partners he has had over the years – Jim Otremba and Al Lendt, each of whom have been partners for about 11 years. But most important to the success, Keeling said, was the support, understanding and business acumen of his wife, Barb, who went to school for accounting and over the years handled billing and payments. company financial records.
“I went to sheet metal school. I didn’t know anything about running a business or anything like that,” Keeling said. “You learn the hard way.
“But hats off to her,” Keeling said of his wife. “I was away a lot. We decided early on, if I could work harder, more hours, and she could stay home and raise our girls, that was important to us, so we didn’t have to babysit them, you know. But she still… I took the book home, and she worked on it during the day, and when she had it done, she took it back to the store.
In addition to the business, Keeling spent 20 years as a volunteer with the Litchfield Fire Department, serving many years as Deputy Fire Chief and receiving Firefighter of the Year recognition at least once. time. He was also an active volunteer at St. Philip’s Church, as well as a member of the Knights of Columbus.
This created a busy family partnership that worked well, as the Keelings raised three daughters – Lorenda, Anna and Mary Rose – who all grew up. Lorenda and Mary Rose are both married and live in Minnesota, while Anna, her husband and two children live in Oregon.
It is spending time with these children and grandchildren that Keeling says he is most excited about retiring. Sure, he and Barb have traveled to visit their daughters in the past, but it’s often been with one eye on the phone and visits interrupted by a client in need.
“It’s been a good career,” Keeling said. “But it’s almost like dairy farming, I mean, you have all these ovens there, and you know…I sold Amana for many years. I was the only Amana dealer in Meeker County, so if a furnace broke, you almost had to go. I just felt obligated.
Inevitably, these obligations came at inopportune times, like Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, or when Keeling was at one of her daughters’ homes to help with an improvement project.
Although difficult at times, Keeling said it wasn’t all a chore. He loved work and people. And there were times when even the tough days were made better by the stories behind them.
“Lots of funny stories,” he said. “Like grandpa and grandma were calling and they had no heat, and they had the grandkids there all day, so you’d go over there and (find) the grand- kids turned off the furnace switch, because it’s so high (knee-high), they could reach it. You know how grandkids are, you can’t follow them. They see adults turning on and turn off these light switches, and here’s this one right by the furnace, and they turn it off. About 10 o’clock at night, grandma or grandpa calls, they don’t have heat. So go ahead , turn on the switch and go home.
There was also the time Keeling received a panicked call over the weekend from a mother, whose son’s pet iguana had escaped from its cage and forced its way through the vents.
“She’s freaked out, because the kid is freaked out,” Keeling said with a chuckle. “You have to go help them, get that iguana out. There are lots of funny stories. They will have a bat stuck in the vent, and they want you to come and get the bat or the rodents out of the vents. And you always find dead rodents and birds…it’s part of the business.
But after nearly half a century, when customers are like family, you answer the call. Because your wife understands and supports you.
That April Fool’s Day, however, Keeling’s phone was silent. And no one was kidding him. The next chapter of his life had arrived. The chapter where a ringing phone will be replaced by family visits, vacations and free time.
But it is unlikely that he will remain seated. He will find other things to occupy his time.
“My doctor asked me if I was going to retire, and I said, ‘Well, I have to keep working.’ He says, ‘Good, because most people who sell a business and retire aren’t my patients in five years.’ He said, ‘Keep going. Stay active.’ Then I’ll find something to do. It’ll just be different.