Kathleen Clemons-Keller is a graduate of Harding High School. She attended North Main Street Elementary School, Taft Middle School, and the Marion City Schools (MCS) freshman building. She spent two years in the general office secretary program at Tri-Rivers.
Life didn’t allow Clemons-Keller to attend college until 1993. She started at The Ohio State University in the social work program. She graduated in 1997 spending two years in Marion, and two years on the main campus.
Following graduation, Clemons-Keller knew she wanted to work at MCS but not teach.
“At that time there was a large dropout rate among minority students. I put together a proposal with the help of one of my professors,” said Clemons-Keller. “I presented it to the superintendent, assistant superintendent, and principal at Harding. They accepted, and I started working at MCS in August of 1997.”
Clemons-Keller went to different schools, looking at what social needs kids had, they would bring in the community to the students and connect them to resources.
“In 1998, I completed a grant proposal. We partnered with Ohio State and wrote a grant to grow minority teachers,” said Clemons-Keller
Most minority students weren’t looking at the field of education and weren’t staying in Marion. With Growing Our Own, once they graduated high school, students could receive full tuition to Ohio State Marion and teach at Marion City Schools. Only one student took advantage of this opportunity. A change was made.
“We were able to make it a mentoring program. We visited historically black colleges, took students out of Marion, allowed them to travel, learn etiquette, and how to present themselves. This allowed them to see people who looked like them in higher education and see that they could do this,” said Clemons-Keller.
Some students who went through the program received their Ph.D., some became entrepreneurs, one is an assistant attorney general in Columbus and one is part of a similar program in Columbus.
Clemons-Keller lost her job after the funding stopped, but she didn’t slow down.
“I was out of a job for about three years, but it was the best time of my life. I was able to give back. We always say if we have more time we will help and volunteer, so I did,” said Clemons-Keller. “I was able to help people babysit, doing whatever somebody needed and didn’t charge them. I did things I always said I would do if I had time. I gave my time.”
Clemons-Keller started at Ohio State in 2008. In 2017 she started working for the Office of Student Life, Diversity and Inclusion.
In addition to being an ordained minister, Clemons-Keller is part of the Peace & Freedom Committee, former chair of the Black Heritage Council, was previously on the YMCA Board, was a part of helping bring the Boys & Girls Club to Marion, and had been active in the community. She felt called to dedicate time to her sons and stepped back, but she has been involved in the community through her work positions. After her father passed away, she dedicated her time to caring for her mother.
Clemons-Keller has two sons, one in Virginia, and the oldest in Marion. Between the two, Clemons-Keller has six grandchildren, five girls, and one boy.
Clemons-Keller believes others should be active also.
“It’s important for people to be involved in the community to know what’s going on and to have a voice. You can speak negatively about things, but until you’re in the trenches, you don’t understand. Being involved in the community helps build it. We have to make it better,” said Clemons-Keller.
Clemons-Keller is hopeful for Marion’s future.
She said, “life is short. I am hopeful through the pandemic, maybe people took time when they were alone to think of what they have done to help Marion. And as things start to get back, they will get involved and give back.”