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Kathleen Clemons-Keller graduated from Harding High School. She attended North Main Street Elementary School, Taft Middle School, and the Marion City Schools (MCS) freshman building. She spent two years in the General Secretary program at Tri-Rivers.
Life didn’t allow Clemons-Keller to go to college until 1993. She started at Ohio State University in the social work program. She graduated in 1997 spending two years at Marion and two years on the main campus.
After graduating, Clemons-Keller knew she wanted to work at MCS but not teach.
“At that time, there was a significant dropout rate among minority students. I put together a proposal with the help of one of my professors,” Clemons-Keller said. “I introduced him to the superintendent, the assistant superintendent and the manager of Harding. They accepted and I started working at MCS in August 1997.”
Clemons-Keller went to different schools, looking at children’s social needs, then brought the community to students and connected them to resources.
“In 1998, I filled out a grant application. We partnered with Ohio State and wrote a grant to develop minority teachers,” Clemons-Keller said.
Most of the minority students did not look at the field of education and did not stay at Marion. With Growing Our Own, once they graduate from high school, students can receive full tuition at Ohio State Marion and teach at schools in Marion City. Only one student took advantage of this opportunity. A change has been made.
“We were able to turn it into a mentorship program. We visited historically black colleges, took students out of Marion, allowed them to travel, learn etiquette and how to present themselves. It allowed them to see people who looked like them in higher education and see that they could do it,” Clemons-Keller said.
Some students who have completed the program have earned their doctorates, some have become entrepreneurs, one is an assistant attorney general in Columbus, and one is in a similar program in Columbus.
Clemons-Keller lost her job after funding stopped, but she didn’t slow down.
“I was unemployed for about three years, but it was the best time of my life. I was able to give back. We always say if we have more time we will help out and volunteer, so I did,” Clemons-Keller said. “I was able to help people babysit, do whatever someone needed and I didn’t charge them. I did things that I always said I would do if I had the time. I gave of my time. »
Clemons-Keller started at Ohio State in 2008. In 2017, she began working for the Office of Student Life, Diversity and Inclusion.
In addition to being an ordained minister, Clemons-Keller is on the Peace & Freedom Committee, former president of the Black Heritage Council, was previously a YMCA board member, helped bring the Boys & Girls Club to Marion and was active in the community. She felt called to make time for her sons and took a step back, but she got involved in the community through her jobs. After the death of her father, she devoted her time to caring for her mother.
Clemons-Keller has two sons, one in Virginia and the oldest in Marion. Between the two, Clemons-Keller has six grandchildren – five girls and one boy.
Clemons-Keller thinks others should be active as well.
“It’s important for people to get involved in the community to know what’s going on and have a voice. You can speak negatively about things, but until you’re in the trenches, you don’t understand. Being involved in the community helps build it. We have to improve it,” Clemons-Keller said.
Clemons-Keller is hopeful for Marion’s future.
“Life is short,” she said. “I’m hopeful during the pandemic, maybe people took some time off when they were alone to think about what they did to help Marion. And as things start to come back , they will get involved and give back.