Between the families of Michael and Felisa Guadian and J. Harold and Esther Keller, each has given back to Garden City more than eight decades of their time, hard work and dedication.

On Saturday night, the community formally said thank you.

The two families were honored at the Finney County Historical Society’s 45th annual Pioneer Awards banquet, which each year recognizes families who have had a longtime presence in Finney County and have made significant contributions to the community. The event was held at the Church of the Nazarene, 2720 N. Campus Drive.

Michael Guadian Sr. first came to Garden City as a teenager in the 1930s. He and Felisa married in December 1941, before he served in the U.S. Army during World War II.

Harold Keller came to Garden City in 1932 after taking a job with Garden City Building and Loan, met Esther, and the two married in 1934.

In the decades since, the two families have worked, raised families, served in volunteer and leadership roles in the community and have been helping shape Garden City.

Michael Guadian Jr., who accepted the award alongside his mother, spoke in an interview before the banquet about the award being an honor for his entire family. But the event also was bittersweet for him and his family, after the death of his father on Feb. 19 at the age of 99.

“I just wish to God my dad would have been alive to have been part of this,” he said.

Calling his father “low-key,” Guadian Jr. said he probably would have had to “drag” his father to the banquet. But, he said, his dad would have been proud.

The pride could be heard in Guadian Jr.'s voice as he talked about the many ways his parents have given back to the community, particularly their efforts to help immigrants new to the community become documented and feel at home in their new surroundings.

“They were kind of the social agency before the social agencies got here,” he said. “Why they did that? Just out of the kindness of their hearts, I think.”

Michael Guadian Sr. worked for 36 years as a machine operator with the Santa Fe Railroad. Felisa was a homemaker and a volunteer in the local schools, as well as a Retired Senior Volunteer program volunteer for many years at Garden City Community College. They were members of the Catholic churches of Garden City and volunteered with the Boy Scouts and various veterans groups. They were leaders in the Latin America Club and Garden City Community Mexican Fiesta Committee, with Guadian Sr. having served as past president.

“I could never say no,” Felisa Guadian said with a smile before the awards banquet.

The couple have seven children — Mike Jr., Rose Mary Hall, Patty Guadian, Christopher Guadian, Melissa Chamberlain, Anthony Guadian and Monica Cordova. They also also have 12 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

Guadian Jr., who lived in Kansas City for many years and retired as a manager for Sears before moving back to Garden City to help care for his parents, said he believes their legacy was their willingness to get involved in the community and help those most in need.

“We need more of that, more inclusiveness from the community to other people that maybe don’t get the recognition that they should get,” he said about why his parents are worthy of the honor. “They may not be as visible as some of the others are. What they’ve done may not be thought of as important as what some of the other people have done, but it’s still part of the uplifting process. They’ve done a lot to help the city as a whole.”

For Felisa, the honor and event were a bit overwhelming.

“I can’t find the words to explain. It makes me so happy — so very happy,” she said.

Steve Keller, one of seven children of Harold and Esther Keller and the only one still living in Garden City, spoke about the strong ties that bind his family and brought all of his living siblings — Michael, Patrick, David, Donald, Steven and Maryanne — back for the banquet. Their oldest brother, John “Monte” Keller, has passed, but his wife, Kay, attended Saturday’s banquet.

“To all of us, it’s a wonderful thing to honor our family,” said Steve, now retired after a career with Keller & Miller accounting firm in Garden City. “We’ve always been a very strong family, and I was so grateful that all of my siblings are here for this event.”

Their father was a “very strong-willed person,” Steve said.

“There was one way, and it was his way, whether you wanted it to be or not. He was colorful, to say the least, very hard-driven. He pushed his children very hard,” Steve said.

Harold Keller worked at Nolan Motors, and later bought Stotts Abstract in 1948, but he is best known for starting Keller-Leopold Insurance Agency with partner Willard Leopold in 1943.

Esther Keller, according to the historical society, was an excellent cook and was known for her pheasant season breakfasts and first-day-of-school gingerbread cookies, while Harold became an avid hunter and fisherman. The couple served the community on various boards and committees, while Esther read stories as the Finney County “Library Lady” on KIUL Radio.

“Our mother was a lovely woman — a true saint,” Steve said. “ ... She provided a very loving home to all of us.”

Today, the family's legacy continues at the local insurance agency as Harold and Esther’s great-nephews, Eric and Doug Keller, serve as two of several co-owners of the company. Their father, Jim Keller, worked alongside Harold for many years at the agency.

“It’s an incredible blessing to be able to be at work every day in a business that Harold and my dad — because my dad was there for 52 years — built and laid a foundation for ...,” Eric, who recalls working for Harold when he was in college, said before the banquet. “ ... We have customers who go back to Harold — not a lot anymore, but some.”

 

Contact Brett Riggs at briggs@gctelegram.com.