Naperville Municipal Band director plans to pass the baton this August

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Ron Keller, the longtime director of the Naperville Municipal Band, will be passing the baton after this summer concert season, as he plans to retire.

It’s a job that Keller has held since 1966, taking the position when he was just 26 years old. He’s proud of the way the group has grown over the years.

“Now we’re one of the best in the country”

“The band that I’m turning over to the next director is not the band I started with 57 years ago,” said Keller. “They were a typical town band and now they’re one of the best in the country and that didn’t happen overnight either. It was a pretty big challenge, but we got it.”

Keller’s family has a long history with the municipal band, spanning five generations. His great-grandfather used to lead the band, and his parents were both members. Ron himself started as a member of the band in 1951, appearing as a soloist.

“He’s put his own mark on the band as its director, creating traditions like honoring the military yearly during the summer concert series. This year’s kickoff concert held Thursday night had the theme “A Salute to our Armed Forces.”

“I don’t think people pay enough attention to our veterans. Memorial Day is one day, and it should be all about them. So, I decided that the first concert would be a salute to our veterans and military. There’s a lot of good music written out there about them, so that’s what were going to open with this season.”

Naperville Municipal Band recognized across the U.S.

Around the country, Keller has run into strangers who’ve attended the Thursday night concerts. He’s still amazed at the far reach the band has, sharing this story.

“So I came out of Canada on a fishing trip and you come through the American side on International Falls. A guy steps out of the booth and he looks at my license plate and he says ‘Tuba Band? Does that mean you play the tuba?'”

“Yeah,” Keller said.

“He said ‘Where you from in Illinois?’ and I said Naperville. He said, ‘do they still have those band concerts on Thursday nights?’ And this is in Canada! I said ‘Yeah, how do you know about that?’ He said “I grew up in Lisle, we were there every Thursday night!’”

Ron Keller and his close-knit group of musicians

Over the years, the band has become a tight-knit group, and it’s those relationships shared during practice and performance, Keller says he’ll miss the most.

“Probably the camaraderie that we have with everyone because they’re all friends,” said Keller. “We have very little turnover, about 2% a year. So a lot of people have been in the band 25,30,35 years. In fact, this summer we’re celebrating three of them with 50 years. Our oldest member is Bill Albrecht and he’s been in the band 75 years.”

But Keller says he will still be around even after he turns in his baton, ready to lend a hand.

“I’m going to be called Director Emeritus and I would be available if they need something,” said Keller.

Ron Keller is well known in the community, especially having gone through three different band shells at Central Park. Some in the public think he should forever be remembered there.

“Everyone’s grown up with him,” said longtime concert attendee, Dave Cleveland. “He’s a legend in the town basically, he’s like a George Pradel and stuff. He’ll be missed, he adds something to the town. We should make a statue for him or name the pavilion after him!”

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