H-F track legend leaves legacy of mentorship

  The late Bruce Keene, left, with E.J. Dorsey,
  one of the H-F High School track stars
  who received a scholarship Keene established.

  (Photos provided by Alecia Hoefler)
 

Bruce Keene is no longer running, but he is still making a difference in the world. 

The Homewood-Flossmoor High School track legend died on Oct. 28 after living 11 years with brain cancer. 
 

  Bruce Keene, second 
  from left, with track 
  teammates and 
  cheerleaders at a 
  track meet in 1977, 
  his senior year at 
  H-F High School.

 

But the cancer and its treatments didn't stop him from running, according to his sister, Alecia Hoefler. After having most of one tumor removed and undergoing extensive treatment, he kept moving and was able to achieve his goal of running the Chicago Marathon one more time.

In fact, as she describes his last decade, Keene lived more intentionally after the diagnosis. He kept active, traveling with friends and family, creating special moments and memories that will be his lasting legacy, she said.

One post-diagnosis project was something he had long talked about doing, Hoefler said. He started a scholarship awarded to seniors who win the H-F team most valuable player award. Keene remains the only track athlete in school history to win the MVP award in men's track all four years of his high school career.

He did more than just provide money for the scholarship. He took student runners under his wing.

Hoefler said their father died when Keene was almost 13, and although he had good support in high school, the loss made him aware how important having a mentor could be for young people.

H-F track Coach Nate Beebe said Keene tried to make a difference in the lives of the athletes who were following in his footsteps. 
 

  Bruce Keene, right, with 
  his wife, Joan. 

 

"He made it his mission to bring back alumni to speak to current athletes about how track and field impacted their lives and pass on the wisdom they have learned over these years," Beebe said. "Bruce also made it a point to be a part of the lives of many of the previous Bruce Keene Memorial Scholarship winners as a mentor, benefactor and friend."

One of the runners he influenced was Homewood Police Officer and 2011 H-F graduate E.J. Dorsey, a recipient of the Keene Scholarship who went on to run track at Eastern Illinois University.

Dorsey posted an open letter addressed to Keene after learning of his mentor's death.

"You believed in me more than I believed in myself at times, and I can never repay you for that," Dorsey wrote. He said he planned on following Keene's example, because "the best way to honor you for the opportunities you gave me would be to pay it forward. And I plan on doing just that."

In 1977, Keene set the school record for what's now the 800 meter race. Dorsey said Keene encouraged him to go after that record.
 

  Bruce Keene, right, with 
  his son, Joe.

 

"I didn't get your record, but I gained your respect, which meant a lot more," Dorsey said, although in 2015 he did set the EIU record for the 600 meter race. Keene's 800 meter record, 1:51, still stands at H-F and is the 19th fastest time in Illinois High School Association history, according to Beebe.

"The legacy he leaves is something to be admired and followed by anyone and I personally can only hope that I am able have such a positive impact on so many people, as Bruce has," Beebe said. 

Hoefler said her brother had an active mind his whole life. He was quick with numbers and had a career in finance.  He also had a capacious memory and could entertain friends and family with the ability to report obscure details about sports statistics or the lives of celebrities.

"He was such a numbers guy," she said, noting that he loved playing poker and cribbage. She said he was proud of the fact that he beat the odds in his battle with cancer. He lived for 11 years after doctors said he had two to five years left.

"He was a very humble guy, in life and in death," she said. "My brother was so appreciative to his Homewood-Flossmoor community and how it shaped him."

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 25, at St. Mark United Church of Christ, 312 N. Chicago Road, Chicago Heights.

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking memorials be contributions to the Bruce Keene Track Scholarship fund through the HF High School Foundation, 1020 Park Drive No. 434, Flossmoor, IL 60422.

  Bruce Keene, center, runs the Chicago 
  Marathon in 2010 with his daughter, 
  Sarah, left. Running one more marathon 
  was a goal Keene pursued after battling 
  brain cancer for several years.


  

 

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