2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the incorporation of Thomas E. Keller Trucking. Tom's humble beginnings taught him the value of family, hard work, and building a legacy as told in his memoir, The Life and Legacy of Thomas E. Keller.
Knox County, Indiana – just outside of a small town called Vincennes – is where the Keller family planted our roots. My parents owned a farm that spanned about 26 acres, complete with cows, livestock, and fields where we harvested cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, green bell peppers, and tomatoes. My father and I spent most of our days laboring on the farm. Dad had never grown melons before but knew of several farmers in the area doing it with success. He talked to those farmers and learned how to grow melons.
Being raised on a farm teaches you the importance of family, and I believe I had strong relationships with my parents and siblings. Above all, the Keller family was practical. My father finally decided to invest in one of the biggest pieces of machinery – a Doodlebug tractor that could cultivate 10 to 15 acres of melons a day. I was thrilled my dad made such a smart investment, no doubt, a big decision for him, and started dreaming of other opportunities for our family. What could our family accomplish if we purchased another tractor? Or a truck? Each time I considered the possibility, I felt excited. Maybe it was time we thought bigger.
I learned important skills in childhood: what it meant to work hard for your family, take pride in your work, and put family first. I learned the important trait of resourcefulness – making more out of little to nothing. I will cherish these early childhood memories, and the foundation they laid for the rest of my life.
The work we did in a typical day was always dependent on the season, and that particular season would dictate what needed to be done. If it were spring, when we began the methodical process of planting the cantaloupe and watermelon seeds, I would prepare all of the horses for the work they would do in the field. As I grew older and got my driver’s license, I was responsible for transporting the harvest and getting the melons to the major cities a few times a week and negotiating the price.
My father – and his impressive work ethic – was not the only influence on my character; my mom was also a guiding force. As a child, especially in my elementary school days, I struggled academically as one of the youngest in my class. Mom was particularly helpful in tutoring me so I didn’t fall behind. Every afternoon, when the farm work was complete and when the rest of my friends were playing, mom helped me with my homework. I struggled with this every day. As I reflect back, I should have waited another year before starting school. Mom didn’t have more than an eighth-grade education, but that didn’t stop her from working with me until my homework was complete.
Many of the values that shaped me as a young man, especially my father’s penchant for hard work, are ones that went on to serve me greatly as an adult. I’m not sure I could have found the grit to survive the cutthroat world of sales or the guts to start my own business in my 40s when I had a family to support. I’m sure I inherited Dad’s work ethic.