February 25, 1931 – March 7, 2020
The spirit of Air Force CMSgt (Retired) Victor Lee “Vic” Keeton (Leadville Class of 1949) soared to Our Heavenly Father from his Peak Valley Ranch homestead west of Lake George, Colorado on Saturday, March 7, 2020 after bravely enduring COPD to outdistance the predictions of whitecoat doctors by over 8 years. Referring to Vic, an observer once said to never tell a Keeton “No.”
Victor was born in Lamar, Colorado on February 25, 1931 to Mary Merle Nelson and Carey Elmer Keeton, who served as lay pastor for a Friends church in Lamar before moving to Leadville, Colorado and opening Keeton Motor Company, a Buick dealership. Victor was predeceased by his parents and 8-year older brother Monty, who died in childhood at the age of 4, and 10-year older sister Mildred Cornelius, who lived to old age in Thayer, Missouri.
While in high school, Victor worked as a butcher for Safeway and as ski patrol for Cooper Hill. At 5’10” Vic was starting center for the Leadville Panthers because of his ability to outwit and outjump taller opponents then wear them out. He also enjoyed hunting and fishing with his dad, who apparently never recovered from the untimely loss of Monty to fully embrace his younger son Victor.
Vic left high school during his senior year and went without food for a week because his last $25 was required to pay union dues to work as a longshoreman. Before the end of 1949, Victor enlisted in the Air Force and departed from the Depot in Colorado Springs for basic training at Lowry AFB in Denver. Victor Keeton was afterward assigned as an aircraft mechanic to the 53rd Military Airlift Squadron “Blackjacks” at McCord AFB near Seattle, Washington from whence he flew in theater during the Korean War. Keeton quickly earned the respect of those he worked with and for as their go-to expert.
Because of his ability to repair just about anything, Vic was selected for newfangled IBM computer school. Vic was then assigned to Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas, which happened to be the hometown of his wife of 63 years, Nancy Jean Dillard. When Vic was assigned to Wethersfield RAF Station in England, Nancy said, “I am going too.” Soon after Vic and Nancy married on May 5, 1956, they literally shipped out together.
Vic and Nancy’s eldest child, Kathryn Lee “Kathy” Keeton, was born in England on October 13, 1958 and became their pride and joy. Kathy later went on to be a helicopter pilot for the Army and retire as a major in the Reserves. When Kathy was assigned to Fort Carson, she turned an initial orientation mission into an opportunity to land at the Ranch for the crew to enjoy a cup of coffee.
After returning stateside, Victor was assigned to Strategic Air Command Headquarters, Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. Victor was in charge of keeping now primitive computer technology up and running during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The stress of shouldering this responsibility to protect our nation from nuclear holocaust caused Vic to go completely bald. During that time the Keetons’ second daughter, Nancy “Carol” Keeton was born on October 24, 1960. Carol later graduated from the Air Force Academy, and after pilot training was assigned to Vic’s former 53rd “Blackjacks” squadron albeit white sidewall tires on planes were no longer in vogue.
It was not more than 6 months into an unaccompanied 1-year follow-on assignment to Lajes Field in the middle of the Atlantic before Vic had Nancy and their two girls aboard a yellow Braniff jet to join him on the island, which increased his assignment to 2 years. He loved his family.
Victor’s next assignment was to Holloman AFB, New Mexico. Most every weekend Vic took his family outdoors to enjoy the “Land of Enchantment” through camping, hiking, skiing, fishing or hosting gymkhanas at the base stables. Before leaving for their next assignment, the Keeton family drove and camped all the way to Washington State searching for mountain ranch property within driving distance to Air Force installations. Through an Air Force friend from England, Vic and Nancy found the 160-acre Stoll homestead west of Lake George available for a steep $200/acre and began making payments before moving to Edwards AFB in California’s Mohave Desert.
After 2 years at Edwards, Vic was able to wrangle an assignment to Ent AFB in Colorado Springs. Victor, later joined by Nancy, commuted 1½ hours each way, 5 days/week to Peterson AFB as Ent AFB was closing. Vic got pulled over only once during that 10 years, and that was because Officer Scholes wanted to issue him a citation for being a safe driver.
Vic Keeton was one of the first Chief Master Sergeants in the Air Force and held the rank for about 10 years. At one point, Chief Keeton was considered for Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, but he did not like politics, making speeches, or the idea of living near Washington D. C. By the time he retired after 30 years in the Air Force, Vic was non-commissioned officer in charge of the NORAD complex. However, Chief Keeton still found time to shepherd new 2nd Lieutenants to ensure they got off to a good start.
To connect with his horse enthusiast wife Nancy, Vic rented a few small buildings and began a feed store in Lake George, which later became Hitchin’ Post Trailer Sales. For a time, Hitchin’ Post was located near the North Gate of the Air Force Academy, where Nancy worked as Chief of Graphics, but was later relocated between Florissant and Lake George, Colorado. Hitchin’ Post prospered due to Vic’s honesty, strong work ethic, and uncommon service after sales. At one point, Vic’s business was 4th in the nation regarding Sooner trailer sales. His secret: “Find out what the customer wants and get it for them.”
In his spare time, Vic spearheaded the Community Fellowship of Christians building project and organized its body of believers. Vic was always eager to invest in the lives of others so they could also rise above adversity. When learning a young lady was starting out as a barber, Vic took the initiative to post advertisements and spread word of mouth to help increase clientele. He loved to help people.
Vic served as a volunteer Deputy Sheriff for the Park County Sheriff’s Office, headed the local VFW post, served as board member for the Teller County Fair, helped the Lake George Volunteer Fire Department put out fires, and instigated and oversaw development of the Lake George Community Park. It has been said that Vic Keeton put Lake George on the map.
Victor Keeton is survived by his wife Nancy, 2 daughters Kathy Bystrom and Carol Pool, and son-in-law Larry Bystrom. Vic was known as “Poppa” to 10 grandchildren: Justin Bystrom (wife Nikki), Martha (Pool) Nelson (husband Scott), Caleb Pool, Tirzah Pool, Susanna Pool, Audrey Pool, Matthew Bystrom, Andrew Pool, Nathan Pool, and John Pool; and 4 great-grandchildren: Troy, Cody, Ryleigh, and Kaylee.
Funeral services were held at Community Fellowship of Christians on Saturday, March 14, 2020. Internment followed at the Lake George Cemetery with full military honors concluded by a 21-gun salute to “Chief” Keeton, my five-star dad.
Written by Carol Keeton Pool