Round-ball Coach Retires

Story by Christina Keaster

“Hey aren’t you Coach Keaster’s daughter?” Or sometimes, I hear, “Aren’t you related to a Don Keaster?” Then I answer with, “Yes, I am” or “That’s my dad.” Those comments are often followed by: “Tell him I said hello,” or “He was my coach back in the day, he was a great coach!”

Conversations like the one above happen almost every week. But you see, it isn’t at all embarrassing for me to be called out because of who I am — it’s an honor.

My dad, Coach Don Keaster, will be retiring in May. After 38 years of serving the Russellville School District, he’s finally discovering the wooden top of his desk by sorting through all the papers and knick- knack things that covered it from sight. The Wilson basketballs underneath the desk will go back in the cage, and the framed photos of the family will come home to be hung on the wall. I remember sorting through my dad’s desk at the old Gardner Junior High, trying to organize it to the best way a fourth grader could.

When I was in junior high, every Sunday afternoon we rode in his red Dodge dually pickup truck to the gym for practice, taking his players home on the way back. Every Monday through Friday morning until the time I got my own car, my father and I would stop for donuts on the way to school, listening to Johnny Story talk about whose birthday it was or which games the Cyclones were going to win. Those are just a few memories I will never forget. But my dad’s story didn’t begin with his coaching career; it began November 15, 1947 — the day he was born.

Don Keaster was born in Great Falls, Montana. He is the third oldest of five boys and has one sister. He is the son of the late Walt Keaster, a pioneer cattle drover, and Emily Keaster, known as the Queen of the Last Frontier. Dreaming of a homestead ranch in Alaska, the couple took the advice of Walt’s childhood friend, Al Remington, and filed for a homestead on 160 acres in March of 1954. In July of 1954, they arrived in Alaska.

The journey to Alaska was anything but easy. A school bus held 18 passengers, serving as a place of rest and dining space. Seven children slept in a half-moon trailer attached behind the bus, and sometimes rode in it during the day. The Alcan Highway was a rough, gravel path that stretched more than 2,000 miles. The harsh path ensured hardships along the way, with repairs almost every day to the vehicles.

With 56 head of cattle, five horses, and five trucks, the journey took 28 days to complete. Upon arriving near the Clearwater Creek, southeast of Delta Junction, Don and his brothers Art, Richard, and Wes were greeted by a 16-foot army tent with a wooden floor and stove pipe coming out the top. The tent served as a temporary home from July to October. The family later moved into a small house that they put on the homestead. Then, in 1959, a log cabin was built as the Keaster home.

Until the well was drilled, the family had to haul enough water for themselves and the livestock from the creek. The Keaster sons picked wild berries and rhubarb to last the entire year while Grandma Keaster used her green thumb to grow plants and vegetables. She would also bake bread weekly. (It’s the best bread). Grandma now has a greenhouse and raises a variety of vegetables and many flowers.

Don was a quiet kid growing up. He was hardworking, playful, happy, humorous, and always smiling — not much different from now. Don’s father died in 1979, at 59 years of age The log cabin still remains, with my pioneer Grandma Keaster waking up to the sound of pet birds chirping and the sight of moose near the front of the house.

It took 20 miles both ways for Don and his family get to school at Fort Greely. At first, Don attended school in a makeshift Quonset hut until the new school was built for elementary and high school levels. There were a total of 28 students in his graduating class.

Don met his future bride, Lucretia Hoover, when she was a junior in high school. She had moved from Arkansas, when her parents, Winford and Gladys Hoover, decided to take their teaching careers to Alaska. The Hoovers made two tours to Alaska via the Alcan Highway, but Lucretia and Don did not until the Hoover’s second tour. They met at Fort Greely High School in 1966.

“I knew that God had chosen him for me,” Lucretia recalls. Don always told Lucretia that he “followed her to Arkansas”.

They went on one date during their senior year before Don accepted a basketball scholarship to Missouri Western Junior College and Lucretia went to the University of Arkansas. They wrote letters back and forth, their love growing deeper for one another with each seal of the envelope

Lucretia and Don both moved to Russellville to attend Arkansas Tech University. Don earned degrees in Physical Education and Coaching. Lucretia graduated with a degree in an Elementary Education and pursued a Masters Degree at the University of Central Arkansas.

The entire Keaster family loved basketball, and Don’s passion for the sport and coaching grew from that foundation.

The high school sweethearts were married August 30, 1969. They began to start a family, which included two son, my brothers Chad and Jeremy, and myself, Christina. Of course, we all played basketball. Celebrating 41 years together this year, the Keasters have memories that are within the walls of the school gyms of Russellville that they will treasure forever.

With retirement at the end of the school year, Don will be even more wanted for horse-rides and bear hugs from the four granddaughters he now has and one on the way!

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