School principal suffering from pancreatic cancer

Many young lives will spiral onward because of the faith, hope and love offered by Charles Keller to his students.

His wife, Brenda, has a shoe box of letters from former and present-day students grateful for his support.

"Thank you for being part of my life and helping me reach for the stars and believing that I will actually catch them someday," wrote former Carson High School graduate Ryan Costella to the Pioneer and Opportunity high school principal.

Keller is at home in Carson City with his wife, daughter, Megan, and family, friends and hospice workers after finding out in January he has pancreatic cancer.

"I've known him for close to 20 years," said Kiwanis co-member Tom Gibbons, who planned to visit Keller Thursday night. "He's the type of man that every father, husband and teacher would want to be. He's a tremendous role model."

Keller came to Opportunity and Pioneer, alternative high schools, during the 1997-98 school year, after working at Carson High School for a year.

"When he took over six years ago, the program was kind of in disarray," said language arts teacher Rebecca Rodina. "We didn't really have a vision for what Pioneer and Opportunity were going to be. He was really a lot of influence and created a vision. I think he has provided a very secure, safe, caring environment for students who have not otherwise felt success in the school system."

"He is a wonderful man," said Conny Hernandez, the secretary at Pioneer, which helps at-risk students such as teen mothers. "He supported the kids. He was very fair, but he was also a disciplinarian. He truly truly loved this school."

Indications of Keller's illness began late last year when he visited a doctor for about a month because of indigestive pain. On Dec. 27, he was hospitalized and the tumor was discovered on his pancreas.

"We had no idea," Brenda said. "We were thinking he had a heart attack."

He was given six to nine months to live and doctors warned the family of the difficulty of treating pancreatic cancer. In January, Keller became weaker and weaker and returned to the hospital. He was given a month.

"We are very short on our time," Brenda said. "The cancer has been growing, doubling in rate every two months."

Students were informed in mid-January of Keller's illness and a counselor went classroom to classroom letting students know.

"Mr. Keller did wonderful things including taking chances on a few bad kids that he thought just needed a little guidance," wrote a former student to Brenda. "He took a chance on me and ended up teaching me that I was worth more than I was letting myself be."

n Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at or 881-1219.


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